China — land of censorship — is lifting its ban on Facebook, Twitter, the New York Times and other sites that might be deemed “politically sensitive,” according to the South China Morning Post. But there’s a catch: It’s only doing so in Shanghai’s free-trade zone.
“If [foreigners] 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,” an anonymous government source told the Morning Post.
The country, which routinely censors and has reportedly deleted posts from homegrown social networks such as Weibo, is hoping to attract more foreign investors.
U.S. tech companies’ troubles in China related to that country’s policies are well-known: Years ago, Yahoo turned over email information to the government that resulted in the jailing of a journalist, and Google effectively pulled out of the China search market over censorship issues. Google also has accused China of hacking into Gmail, and Chairman Eric Schmidt has had some choice words for the nation.
Facebook and Twitter, which the Chinese government well knows have fueled and helped populist movements, have reportedly been banned there since 2009. (As we’ve written, the government has also blocked news outlets such as the New York Times when they write unflattering articles about Chinese politicians or the government.)
China’s huge population has been officially untapped by Facebook, which boasts more than 1 billion users worldwide. But the social network’s executives have visited the country, presumably to talk about that, among other things. As we mentioned, CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited China last year. COO Sheryl Sandberg was there just a couple of weeks ago, Brandon Bailey wrote for SiliconBeat, who noted that the “Lean In” author was quoted as saying “this is a country that understands that change needs to happen to make things better for the next generation.”
Photo: Laborers work Sept. 23 on a sign reading “China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone” on a gate of Shanghai Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone, before its formal launch Sept. 29. Access to Facebook, Twitter and other websites banned nationwide will be allowed in the zone, a Hong Kong newspaper has reported. (AFP/Getty Images)