The Golden Shield Project, or more commonly referred to as the Great Firewall of China, was established to keep an eye on Internet activity in the communist nation, as well as to censor content deemed subversive, containing pornography, anything about the Dalai Lama, related to the Taiwanese government and more.
It serves to protect China’s leaders, but it’s also a huge pain in the ass for everyone living in China, especially foreigners who cannot access the sites they frequent because they are blocked. People have to resort to using VPNs to gain unfettered access to the internet but the downside is it slows internet connection.
Good news is, after years of caging the internet, Li Keqiang, the current Premier of the People’s Republic of China and party secretary of the State Council, is supporting a move to open the cage door even just a little.
A report from South China Morning Post stated that the Chinese government will be lifting the ban on internet access for some sites within the Shanghai Free-trade Zone. This means that people in the 28km² zone can access previously banned foreign sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and The New York Times. As for mainland China, access is still restricted.
Facebook and Twitter were banned in China back in 2009 as the government sees it as a platform where activists could incite trouble. As for The New York Times, it was banned in China when an article published alleged that family members of former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao accumulated massive wealth through secretive investments that may have involved bribery.
“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.
The Shanghai Free-Trade Zone also welcomes foreign internet providers for licences to provide internet services in it allowing them to compete with China’s big three service providers – China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom.
This effort at internet freedom, though minute, aims to spearhead significant financial and economic reforms that would be beneficial for the country, especially with plans of expanding the Free-Trade Zone to the entirety of the Pudong district in the next few years.