Reporters Without Borders takes note of a report in today’s South China Morning Post revealing that leading foreign social networks and news websites will be accessible in the Shanghai free trade zone that is to be inaugurated at the end of the month.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a government source told the newspaper that, as an experiment, the authorities were on the point of allowing access to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and the New York Times website in the Shanghai business district of Pudong, where the free trade zone will be located.
“By taking this decision, the Chinese government is acknowledging that Internet censorship is bad for business,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We regret that this lifting of censorship will apply to just a limited part of the country and that the reasons behind it are purely economic.
Reporters Without Borders added: “Targeted mainly at foreigners, this measure will probably not benefit the Chinese population. It should be extended to all Chinese Internet users, who are now the victims of discrimination in access to information.”
As in the Hong Kong free trade zone, the Chinese authorities want the Shanghai free trade zone to attract foreign telecommunications companies that will offer their Internet connection services to companies based in the zone.
The restrictions on Internet access are being lifted with the chief aim of attracting additional foreign investment, and the measure will apply only to an area of some 30 square kilometres centred on Pudong.
This surprising U-turn by the government on the subject of social networks comes just two days after an outcry by Internet users forced the authorities to release Yang Hui, a 16-year-old school student and online activist who was arrested for what he had posted online.
Police in Zhangjiachuan arrested Yang on charges of provocation and disruption after his comments about possible police involvement in a Karaoke bar owner’s death were retweeted more than 500 times on the Chinese microblog service Tencent.
As a result of a “Save the Child” campaign launched by activists You Feizhu and Wang Shihua, more than 40 lawyers across the country supported calls for Yang’s release. Although facing up to three years in prison under a new law, he was finally released on 22 September after just seven days of “administrative” detention.