This morning, the
South China Morning Post
reported that officials in Beijing have decided to lift a ban on
politically sensitive foreign websites, including
), Twitter, and
The New York Times
, but only within the Shanghai free-trade zone. Moreover, the zone
will welcome bids from foreign telecom companies to begin licensing
and providing Internet services to businesses and consumers within
According to the report, China's big three telecom companies,
), all state-owned, are not raising complaints as the decision was
endorsed by several top leaders in China's government, including
Premier Li Keqiang. Premier Keqiang is interested in utilizing the
Shanghai Free-trade Zone as a proving ground for further economic
reform in mainland China.
Another government source, who declined to be named, told the
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 measures by the government to open a small section of Shanghai
to the Internet are aimed less at the Chinese public than at
international business executives. The Shanghai free-trade zone,
which spans 28.78 square kilometers of the city's Pudong area,
includes Shanghai Pudong International Airport and the surrounding
area, the Waigaoqiao duty-free zone, and the Yangshan port.
reported last month
that Chinese authorities are lifting firewall controls on Western
websites in Beijing's most exclusive establishments, like 5-star
hotels that cater to corporate clients from around the globe.
Still, the move is a step forward: It will make a small portion of
Shanghai more like Hong Kong. Moreover, Facebook and Twitter have
been banned on the mainland since 2009. In that time period, the
heads of the social media giants, as well as those from other
heavy-hitting Internet companies, have been lobbying Beijing to
lift the bans. Perhaps the government is beginning to see how such
thriving social media companies can benefit the Chinese economy.
Earlier this month, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg met with the head of
the State Council Information Office in Beijing, Cai Mingzhao,
ostensibly to discuss her book
, but likely to also have a chat about Facebook use in China.
Shanghai is the first free-trade zone on the mainland to allow an
open Internet, but there are other special economic zones across
the country, in cities like Shenzen, Zhuhai, and Shantou. In fact,
the entire province of Hainan is considered a special economic
zone. Positive results from the shift in policy for Shanghai may
encourage the establishment of additional such open-Internet zones
across mainland China, and perhaps not just for traveling business
Earlier this month at a major Asian business convention, Premier Li
Keqiang said in a speech:
We are implementing the innovation-driven development strategy
at a faster pace, aggressively promoting technological innovation
and deep integration of science and technology with the economy,
and are building a social environment friendly to innovation and
business start-up activities.
If progressive politicians like Premier Li Keqiang have their way
-- and actually mean what they say -- Facebook and Twitter may be
only the beginning.
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