Facebook has been banned in China since 2009. However, at GMIC Beijing today, Facebook’s vice president Vaughan Smith revealed that the social network has a ‘rapidly growing’ business in the country.

Smith said that Facebook is still involved in China by helping Chinese firms reach an audience outside of the country. It also works with developers to provide content on the social network. Smith said:

We have a rapidly growing business in China helping people that are exporting — exporters from China reaching customers around the world. We have 1.3 billion people on Facebook and it turns out that marketing to those people from China works really well.

We also have thousands of developers that are growing their businesses using Facebook to reach customers outside of China.

He also revealed that Chinese social mobile gaming firm FunPlus is one of Facebook’s favorite partners, because one of its games has the “highest retention rate of any games on Facebook.” FunPlus has three games on Facebook — Family Farm, Royal Story and Fantasy Slots.

However, Smith didn’t elaborate on any metrics. He also didn’t mention any possibility of Facebook restarting its service in China when asked about future plans. Instead he acknowledged that Facebook is helping to bring the next five billion people online via its Internet.org initiative, but only generally for people outside of China, a hint that the current arrangement is here to stay.

He noted that Facebook is one of the primary reasons for people to get online on their phones, because people want to connect with their friends and family.  “And that’s a great position for us to help the industry move more people online,” he said.

Smith also said that WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired for up to $19 billion, will play a key role in this.

It turns out if you look at what the number one application is in most countries around the world, the number one app is either WhatsApp or Facebook. So we feel like together we can be even more successful connecting the next five billion people and giving people more reasons to try the Internet.

Facebook will no doubt benefit from having more people online, particularly in terms of helping firms market to a bigger audience. This means that even without a presence in China, companies in the country would naturally be keen to have a presence on Facebook too.

Headline image via Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images