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Chinese holiday island to unlock Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for foreign visitors

Authorities in Hainan also set to recruit 50,000 hospitality workers under three-year plan to boost tourism

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 10:17pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 11:17pm

Visitors to China’s tropical island of Hainan will have access to popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that are banned elsewhere in the country, as part of a new plan drawn up by the local authorities to boost tourism.

The provincial government said also that it expects to hire 50,000 English-speaking foreign workers – many from the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries – and buy 2,000 minutes of advertising time a year on international networks, including the BBC, CNN and CNBC, according to a lengthy three-year action plan published online and reported by state media.

The proposals come two months after Chinese President Xi Jinping announced his plans to transform the island province, known for its palm-fringed beaches and dubbed by some as China’s Hawaii, into a free-trade port by 2020.

Hainan’s three-year plan was released to the public on Thursday on the provincial government’s website, but had been taken down as of Friday afternoon. Its full text was still available via multiple mainland-based news outlets.

China uses a sophisticated censorship system known as the Great Firewall to block access to a long list of social media platforms and foreign news organisations, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

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However, under the Hainan action plan, foreign tourists will be able to gain access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in designated zones in the island’s two major cities, Haikou and Sanya.

The government said it will also use those channels, as well as the Chinese messaging platform WeChat, for its promotional campaigns.

The plan did not say if other social media platforms, like Instagram and Snapchat, or the world’s biggest search engine, Google – all of which are blocked in China – would be available in the designated zones.

Other attempts to attract foreign tourists outlined in the action plan include allowing “instant lotteries” on selected sporting events, including tennis and horse racing. While Beijing officially bans all forms of gambling, it allows two types of lotteries, one of which involves predicting the outcomes of international soccer matches. Some horse racing is also permitted, but betting on it is not.

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The recruitment of tens of thousands of new workers is also key to the island achieving its ambitions to become an international tourism hub.

“[We] aim to hire 50,000 personnel by 2020, and increase the number of foreign students on the island to 3,500,” the plan said.

And in a bid to improve the appearance of local workers, taxi drivers will be banned from chewing betel nuts and wearing flip-flops.

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Separately, the provincial government in May unveiled its “100-Day Campaign to Attract Businesses”, in which it identified a series of A-list names and organisations in the corporate world it plans to talk to. These include investment guru Warren Buffett, US media giant Time Warner, storied British public school Eton College, South Korea’s Samsung and global law firm Baker & McKenzie.