China is reportedly welcoming sites like Facebook and Twitter, previously deemed sensitive and blocked by the government, back into the country. These sites will be accessible in a proposed free trade zone (FTZ) in Shanghai but not the remainder of the country, according to the South China Morning Post via Reuters. The Hong Kong newspaper also cited unidentified government sources saying that foreign telecom firms are also welcome to bid to provide internet services in the zone.
Sites like Facebook and Twitter have been blocked in China since 2009 following deadly riots in the western province of Xinjiang which authorities claim were ignited by social network banter. This censorship was expected, however, as China’s ruling Communist Party routinely censors the internet and blocks access to sites deemed inappropriate or politically sensitive. Last year even the New York Times was banned for reporting that the family of then Premier Wen Jiabao had come into quite the fortune.
The recently approved Shanghai FTZ will be opened on September 29 and is to be a test platform for convertibility of China’s Yuan currency, the increased liberalization of interest rates, reforms for foreign investments, taxation, and more.
The theory behind unblocking websites in the FTZ was to make foreigners “feel like at home,” the South China Morning Post quoted the government source as saying. “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.”
A spokesman for Facebook said the company had no comment on the recent newspaper report yet, however, you have to figure Facebook is happy about the extra hits to be coming their way soon.
While it’s encouraging that China is taking these steps, we’re still a long way from an open and free China!