China is to lift the ban on Facebook, Twitter and other sites in a new ‘free trade zone’ part of the country, following years of censoring websites deemed politically sensitive to the government.
Under the new agreement, people with the 17-square-mile area of the ‘Shanghai Free Trade Zone’ area will be able to access Facebook , Twitter, The New York Times and more.
Currently, Facebook and Twitter are among websites that remain blocked by the government’s censorship system, commonly referred to as the ‘Great Firewall of China’.
Attempts to access Facebook currently result in an error message: “Network Timeout.”
According to a report in the South China Morning Post citing unidentified government sources, authorities are also welcoming bids from foreign telecoms firms for licences to provide Internet services in the zone.
China’s ruling Communist Party blocked Facebook and Twitter in mid-2009 following deadly riots in the western province of Xinjiang that authorities say were abetted by the social networking sites.
The New York Times has been blocked since reporting last year that the family of then-Premier Wen Jiabao had amassed a huge fortune.
The Free Trade Zone launches on Sunday and is intended to serve as a testing ground for financial and service sector reforms, including increased access to the tightly-controlled yuan.
The idea of unblocking websites in the FTZ was to make foreigners “feel like at home”, the South China Morning Post quoted a government source as saying. “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 source said.
Should the government deem the experiment a success over the long run, some of the policies could be implemented in other parts of China.