A tiny crack may have formed in China's determination to wall off its internet from the world, after a report suggested that uncensored web access would be allowed in a small area of Shanghai. Websites such as Facebook, Twitter and the New York Times will be allowed within a new, free trade zone, according to the South China Morning Post, citing unnamed government sources.
"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 at home," one of the sources said. "If they cannot get on to Facebook or read the New York Times, they may naturally wonder how special the free trade zone is, compared to the rest of China." The New York Times was one of several media websites blocked by Beijing because of perceived negative coverage.
The decision comes a week after Iran appeared to restore access to Facebook and Twitter, a move that caught the eye of Chinese internet users. The two websites have been blocked in China since 2009. China has occasionally opened up internet access for foreigners staying at five-star hotels during important conventions. Internet access was also unblocked during the 2008 Olympic Games.
In addition, a new campus for 10,000 students enrolled at the university of Macau in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, has been allowed free internet access. The new free trade zone spans only 11 square miles, taking in a port, Pudong airport and a bonded warehouse, but Shanghai is keen to extend it to cover the whole of its Pudong district.
The news of unfettered access quickly went viral on the Chinese internet, with some calling the new zone "The Facebook Concession", in homage to the foreign concessions that once divided Shanghai before the Communist era. Outside the free trade zone, China has tightened its control of the internet this year.
On Monday, Liaoning province said it would cut off internet access for six months for anyone found having spread online rumours.