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Schmoozing the Reds: AOL's secret China plans revealed

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A pile of internal AOL documents currently doing the rounds reveals the company's plans for a $200 million joint venture in mainland China with local giant Legend. Humorously the documents also reveal news-massaging plans, including giving the story "under tight embargo, to one or two key news outlets - maybe New York Times and Wall Street Journal."

The press releases in The Register's warez media pack are as yet undated, but the likelihood is that the grand unveiling will happen soon. The loves are having daily conference calls in the run-up to the announcement, which will run approximately as follows.

Senior execs from Legend and AOL will do lunch prior to the announcement, "to foster friendship and goodwill." Shortly after 4pm Beijing time, when the Hong Kong exchange has closed, "Chairman Liu and an AOL senior executive (TBD)" will make "opening celebratory remarks" (good lunch then). After key local and HK hacks have had their one to one opportunities with Michael Lynton and Mr Yang, they will likely not have the opportunity to go to the "Evening VIP event."

Sheesh, they feed the story to the WSJ (Far East edition hacks note - to the US edition) and the NYT first, then they drag you out at short notice to wave Powerpoints at you, then you're not important again.

The "celebratory event" will be "cocktails, dinner or both," and will be "targeted to key ministers, business leaders and other VIPs." Invites will go out under Legend's name only, a week in advance "to minimize the chance of a media leak."

The guest list is currently in progress: "Clearly we would have your team work with Legend to ensure our key constituencies are included in that list as well. Legend has suggested that Chairman Liu invite his top ten or so ministerial friends by way of a personal letter of invitation. Legend have agreed to forward us this list in advance."

We at The Register are certainly looking forward to receiving the list of AOL's "key constituencies" and Chairman Liu's "top ten or so ministerial friends."

Here's another good bit: "1) Key Political Outreach We understand you have outlined a comprehensive outreach program to key political figures in both the US and China. When do you plan on implementing such a program and who will the outreach be to? We should also discuss the potential for a media leak prior to the announcement as a result."

Obviously AOL setting up shop in the Red Menace will have a certain political sensitivity to it, so it's pretty important to get those key figures in the US and China onside. We, like the author (Dori Salcido, director of international communications), wonder who these figures might be with eager anticipation.

And the announcement itself? Dull stuff, really. The jv will be a 52-48 split, with AOL getting the 48, and it'll develop consumer interactive services for the Chinese market. Legend already does these, and as it's also the biggest PC manufacturer in China, with associated bundled ISP services, one is led inexorably to the conclusion that AOL is giving it money for seats.

The Q&A FAQ (oh yes, we've got that as well) is even duller, but bearing in mind how bravely (ahem) AOL has defended freedom of speech in the past, we think you might care to cast your eyes over the question 19 collection, dealing with local law, freedom of speech, privacy, all of the hot button stuff. It's long, but it's fun, in a weasel sort of way:

19Q. Is AOL concerned about complying with the content restrictions in China? Aren't they more rigorous than the restrictions in other countries where AOL offers services?

It is our policy to abide by the laws of the countries in which we offer services. We will work closely with government officials and our partner in China to understand and comply with the regulations that govern online services in China.

19Qa. Does this mean you will cooperate with the government in maintaining and making available users' records?

It is our policy to abide by the laws of the countries in which we offer services. We will work closely with government officials and our partner in China to understand and comply with the regulations that govern online services in China.

19Qb. Aren't you concerned that you will be endangering your members? What if the Chinese government asks you for information relating to dissident activity?

It is our policy to abide by the laws of the countries in which we offer services. We believe that it is constructive and valuable to both China and the world as a whole to engage with China and encourage the growth of the interactive medium there.

19Qc. Protecting members' privacy is one of the AOL cornerstones worldwide - how can AOL enforce its member privacy standards in China?

AOL is committed to enforcing privacy standards that comply with the laws of each country in which we operate, and China is no exception. We will work closely with government officials and our potential partner in China to understand and comply with the regulations that govern online services in China.

There, doesn't that make you proud to be American? If you are, that is... ®

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