[Update] Communist Party run newspaper The People’s Daily has published a story denying that the websites mentioned in this article will be available in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, as originally reported by the South China Morning News and widely reported internationally. We are currently unable to confirm whether this is fact the case, but Google Translate version of the article can be found here.)
In an interesting move, and Beijing has decided to lift its ban on a number of websites – including Facebook, Twitter and The New York Times – but only in the newly designated ‘free trade zone’ in Shanghai.
These high profile websites have been banned throughout mainland China as part of the ‘Golden Shield’ project (better known throughout the rest of the world as ‘The Great Firewall of China), the first phase of which was completed in 2006.
The Shanghai Free Trade Zone enjoys the full support of new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who hopes to recreate the financial success of the Hong Kong Free Trade Zone in mainland China. Designed as a testing ground for major financial and economic reforms, the Zone, which covers 28.78 square kilometers in the city’s Pudong Financial District (including the Waigaoqiao duty-free zone, Yangshan deepwater port, and the international airport area), will for the first time allow foreign investment companies to compete with local state owned enterprises.
“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,” state owned newspaper quoted an unnamed government source as saying.
Although ‘dozens’ of previously banned websites will apparently become available, the most prominent are Facebook and Twitter, which were banned for their role in ‘undermining social stability’ during the Arab Spring, and the New York Times, which was banned following allegations it made accusing a family member of former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao of corruption and bribery.
Hopes that this news signals a move towards a more open and tolerant approach to internet freedom are likely to be muted however, as China is currently carrying out its most brutal online crackdown yet seen.