China To Lift Ban On Facebook, Other Sites, But Only In Shanghai Free-Trade Zone

By David Cohen 

ChinaFlagReturnKeyWell, it’s a start: Facebook, Twitter, and other sites that are currently blocked in China will be unblocked, but only in a free-trade zone the government is planning to introduce in Shanghai, Reuters reported, via the South China Morning Post.

The Hong Kong-based newspaper reported that bids from foreign telecommunications firms to provide Internet access in the FTZ will be accepted.

According to the South China Morning Post, via Reuters, the FTZ is aimed at testing the convertibility of China’s currency, the yuan, as well as exploring the reform of foreign direct investment and taxation, and it will formally debut Sept. 29.

The newspaper added that the reason for the relaxation of Internet censorship was to make foreigners “feel like at home,” with a government source 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.

Sterne Agee Analyst Arvind Bhatia said of the news from China:

While the lifting of the ban on Facebook in China is currently limited only to the Shanghai free-trade zone, it is an important first step. With an estimated 560 million Internet users, including 420 million mobile Internet users (according to CNNIC, China’s Web registry regulator), the ultimate potential for Facebook in China is large.

According to the South China Morning Post, China is planning to lift its ban and allow limited access to a few websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and The New York Times. Initially, access will be allowed only in the Shanghai FTZ, which is an area covering less than 20 miles. Speculation is that this will later expand to the entire Pudong district (of which the Shanghai FTZ is a part), which has a population of about 5 million. The Shanghai FTZ was established in July 2013. Over time, if the Chinese government were to open up access to a broader area in the future, companies such as Facebook would be better positioned.

Readers: Do you think the lifting of the ban on Facebook and other sites in the Shanghai FTZ will lead to further access in China?

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