Anonymous Chinese government sources have informed the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that China intends to lift the ban on Facebook, Twitter and the New York Times in the Shanghai free-trade zone.
One of the anonymous sources told the SCMP:
“In order to welcome foreign companies to invest and to let foreigners live and work happily in the free-trade zone, we must think about how we can make them feel like at home. If they can’t get onto Facebook or read The New York Times, they may naturally wonder how special the free-trade zone is compared with the rest of China.”
The Shanghai trade-free zone is set to open September 29 in a bid to encourage foreign investment and business within China in a fashion similar to how Hong Kong operates as a “special autonomous region.”
The Shanghai free-trade zone itself covers 28 kilometers in Pudong district and doesn’t extend to the rest of Shanghai.
Some view the new Shanghai free-trade zone as competition to Hong Kong, but not everyone is convinced it is anything more than hype. Though the reported decision to lift the ban on Facebook, Twitter and the New York Times could come as a sign that the Chinese government is at least willing to make it easier to bypass the Great Firewall in order for foreigners access these — and maybe more — popular sites.
This partial un-blocking could shed some light on what Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg talked about with Chinese government officials behind closed doors on her recent trip to China to promote her new book.
Whether un-blocking the sites translates into anything more than ease of access remains to be seen. This free-trade zone internet “openness” could also conflict with China’s recent crackdowns on trying to contain “rumour mongoring” online by throwing people in jail for spreading “rumours” online.
The extent of the access has yet to be determined as well. Will internet cafes intended for locals have access to the sites? Will China’s Ministry Of Public Security enforce the same restrictions on spreading rumours online in the free-trade zone as they do outside? How will authorities react to regular Chinese citizens travelling to the free-trade zone to open and check social networks where they’re not required to register with the Chinese government to create accounts?