Beijing has made the landmark decision to lift a ban on internet access within the Shanghai Free-trade Zone to foreign websites considered politically sensitive by the Chinese government, including Facebook, Twitter and newspaper website The New York Times.
Government sources informed of the decision told the South China Morning Post on condition of anonymity that the authority in charge of the Hong Kong-like free-trade zone in Shanghai, the first such zone on the mainland, would also welcome bids from foreign telecommunications companies for licences to provide internet services within the new special economic zone.
The mainland’s three biggest telecommunications companies China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, which are all state-owned enterprises, have already been informed of the decision to allow foreign companies to compete with them for business in the free-trade zone in Shanghai, said the sources.
The Big Three didn’t raise complaints as they knew it was a decision endorsed by top Chinese leaders including Premier Li Keqiang, who is keen to make the free-trade zone a key proving ground for significant financial and economic reforms, the sources added.
“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 like at home. 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,” said one of the government sources who declined to be named due to the highly political sensitive nature of the matter.
However Beijing’s decision to open up internet access only applies to the free-trade zone and not anywhere else in the country, the sources said. In late August the State Council, China’s cabinet, approved the launch of the free-trade zone in Shanghai, which will span 28.78 square kilometres in the city’s Pudong New Area, including the Waigaoqiao duty-free zone, Yangshan deepwater port, and the international airport area.