Around Asia: China opens first internet “free trade zone”

In Other News - September 25th, 2013

Banned websites, such as Facebook, Twitter and others deemed sensitive by the Chinese government, will be accessible in the country’s first free trade zone, a rare exception to aggressive Internet controls.

Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post said authorities would also welcome bids from foreign telecoms firms for licenses to provide Internet services in the planned free trade zone in Shanghai.

Sources also said the government would lift a 2012 block on The New York Times.

The opening in China’s so-called Great Firewall would pave the way for foreign investment into the free trade zone, the source said.

“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,” South China Morning Post quoted an unnamed government source as saying.

“If they can’t go 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.”

Beijing tightly censors online content for fear of political or social unrest that could threaten the ruling Communist Party’s grip on power. Certain keywords were banned from searches to prevent any uprising.

In mid-2009, popular social media sites Facebook and Twitter were blocked following deadly ethnic riots in western Xinjiang.

The New York Times has been blocked since it ran an explosive report on the huge fortune of then-Premier Wen Jiabao and his family.

Hundreds of people, including high-profile bloggers, have been detained for spreading “rumors” online.

By: Maesie Bertumen

Image of Chinese internet cafe: Tom Thai/Flickr