Freer access to websites planned in Zhuhai zone
Investors in Hengqin New Area may be able to use social media sites now blocked nationwide
The country's internet police are considering a plan to open a small hole in the "great firewall of China", allowing users in Zhuhai's special economic zone to access some blocked foreign websites.
Authorities in the city's Hengqin New Area said they were working with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and telecommunication providers to open internet access for companies and workers.
The central government currently blocks access nationwide to many foreign websites, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and numerous media outlets.
Ye Zhen, deputy director of the Hengqin New Area's administrative committee, told the Zhuhai Special Zone Daily that the idea is to improve the business environment for investors from Hong Kong, Macau and overseas. "We are adopting suggestions garnered from overseas entrepreneurs who would like to invest in the new area, seeing what kinds of websites they would like to access usually," Ye was quoted as saying.
Hengqin would be the first public area on the mainland to have such internet access, although the central government exempted certain areas from internet restrictions during the 2008 Olympics and the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010.
However, Ye cautioned that not every blocked website could escape censorship. "We should consider various matters," Ye said, citing "safety".
Hengqin officials refused to provide an exact timeline. "We are still studying and drafting the proposal," said Niu Jing, director of the Hengqin New Area's administrative panel.
"We will hand over the plan for approval by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the State Internet Information Office, but we are really not sure about the agenda status for this policy," Niu said.
Zhuhai residents applauded the proposal but believed the most sensitive websites, such as those operated by human rights groups and other groups deemed subversive by the Communist Party would remain off-limits.
Chen Yanhui said: "I think they would only allow some international social media, but still create a blacklist for the most sensitive websites."