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China's lifting of internet blockade denied by state media

Party mouthpiece says Great Firewall will stay in Shanghai zone

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Hopes that the Chinese government was about to relax its strict internet censorship regime in Shanghai appear to have been dashed after state-run media ran stories denying previous reports.

An “exclusive” from Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post on Tuesday, referencing anonymous government sources, claimed that the Great Firewall would be lifted inside the new Shanghai Free Trade Zone (FTZ).

The mooted plan, which would have allowed access to blocked sites such as Facebook and Twitter, was said by one source to help foreigners working in the zone to “feel like at home”.

However, Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily has hit back, claiming from its own unnamed sources that the story is not correct, and that “internet management measures” inside the zone will not be any different from those elsewhere in China.

There will be a strict crack down on any pornography, gambling, drugs or smuggling in the zone, it added, re-emphasising the point that the FTZ will not be allowed to function in a bubble, removed from the rest of China.

There was no news in the report, which Xinhua has recapped in English, about the other claim made by the SCMP – that foreign telcos would be allowed to compete directly against China’s state-run firms to supply internet services in the 28km2 FTZ.

Xi Jinping and his new administration is currently overseeing one of the most severe clamp downs on internet freedom in years, with online rumour-mongers now facing jail time for erroneous tweets.

In this context, an “internet concession” in Shanghai was always looking unlikely – at least at this point in China’s history.

The original story may have been either wishful thinking or an attempt by officials to gain more publicity for the FTZ – a pet project of premier Li Keqiang which it is hoped will spur greater foreign trade and investment and help open the yuan to international markets.

In the meantime, MNCs and employees in the People’s Republic will just have to rely on that old staple the VPN for access to an unfettered internet, or check-in to a luxury hotel, most of which offer the same for tourists. ®

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