China May Lift Internet Firewall in New Free-Trade Zone

Hong Kong Paper Claims Exclusive on Move That Would Give Facebook, Twitter, First Access to Mainland

By Published on .

The Chinese government plans to lift the firewall that bans internet access to foreign sites like Facebook and Twitter, but only within a small future free-trade zone in a district of Shanghai, according to the South China Morning Post.

The English-language newspaper in Hong Kong cited anonymous government sources as saying the future free-trade zone, which will cover about 18 square kilometers in Shanghai's Pudong district including the international airport, would have open internet access to be more welcoming to foreign companies and workers.

If true, the move would be the first opening in China for sites that have long been banned there, including Facebook and Twitter as well as media such as the New York Times website. In their absence, domestic internet brands like Tencent's QQ instant messaging service and WeChat have become giants, and Baidu is the dominant search engine. (Many people in China already access the forbidden sites through VPN networks).

Plans for a free-trade zone were announced several months ago. The South China Morning Post also cited anonymous government sources as saying that foreign telecommunications companies would be allowed to bid to provide internet services within that zone.

It wasn't possible to immediately confirm the news, which the South China Morning Post touted today as an exclusive.

Representatives at Twitter and Facebook didn't respond to requests for comment.

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