Facebook, Twitter and other Web sites deemed sensitive and blocked by the Chinese government will be accessible in a planned free-trade zone (FTZ) in Shanghai, the South China Morning Post reported yesterday.
Citing unidentified government sources, the Hong Kong newspaper also said authorities would welcome bids from foreign telecom firms for licences to provide Internet services in the zone.
The Chinese Communist Party aggressively censors the Internet, routinely deleting online postings and blocking access to Web sites it deems inappropriate or politically sensitive.
Facebook and Twitter were blocked by Beijing in the middle of 2009 following deadly riots in the western province of Xinjiang that authorities say were abetted by the social networking sites.
The New York Times has been blocked since reporting last year that the family of former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) had amassed a huge fortune.
The recently approved Shanghai FTZ is slated to be a test bed for convertibility of China’s yuan currency and further liberalization of interest rates, as well as reforms of foreign direct investment and taxation, China’s State Council has said.
The zone will be formally launched on Sunday, the Securities Times reported earlier this month.
The idea of unblocking Web sites in the FTZ was to make foreigners “feel like at home,” the South China Morning Post quoted a 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,” the source said.
China’s three biggest telecom companies — China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom — have been informed of the decision to allow foreign competition in the FTZ, the sources told the newspaper.
The three state-owned companies had not raised complaints because they knew the decision had been endorsed by Chinese leadership, including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), who has backed the Shanghai FTZ, the sources added.