China clears Facebook and Twitter ban – only in new Shanghai free-trade zone

24 Sep 2013

People in one tiny part of mainland China will now be able to interact with, and surf, sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as read news giants such as The New York Times online. Beijing has announced it is lifting the ban on access to such websites, but only within one area of Shanghai – the new free-trade zone – the South China Morning Post reported.

Facebook and Twitter have been banned on mainland China since 2009, and now the Shanghai free-trade zone is set to be the first ‘Hong Kong-like’ free trade area in mainland China.

The new zone, which the State Council in China approved in late August, will cover an expanse of 28.78 sq km in the Shanghai’s Pudong New Area.

The South China Morning Post today ran what it termed an ‘exclusive’, citing that sites such as the online portal of The New York Times, social networking site Facebook and microblogging site Twitter would all be accessible in this new Shanghai zone.

That paper also reported that government sources “informed of the decision” said “on condition of anonymity” that the first such zone on mainland China would also be open to bids from foreign telecommunications companies for licences to provide internet services within this new economic zone.

The newspaper claimed that mainland China’s three biggest telecommunications companies – China Telecom, China Mobile, and China Unicom – incidentally, all State-owned enterprises – have already been told that foreign telcos will be given the opportunity to compete with them in order to win business in the Shanghai free-trade zone.

Up to now, Beijing, it would appear, has been keeping a tight rein over public access to online media channels.

According to the South China Morning Post, Beijing has up to now blocked access to several internet websites through the ‘Great Firewall of China’. This is the informal name for the Golden Shield project. In China, it is run by the Ministry of Public Security.

Shanghai Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone image image via Shutterstock

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic