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Cracks appear in the Great Firewall of China

Great Firewall of China

Great Firewall of China

The South China Morning Post exclusively reported Tuesday (24th Sept. 2013) that the Chinese government is to allow a partial hole to be created in what has been dubbed the ‘Great Firewall of China‘.

Residents of a specific portion of Shanghai are to be allowed virtually unrestricted access to the internet, including sites that have been banned since 2009 such as Facebook, Twitter, and many western news websites.

Restrictions are to be lifted in the Free-Trade Zone of Shanghai, spanning 29 sq. km. The creation of the zone itself was only approved in August, and may eventually be expanded to include the entire Pudong district (1,210 sq. km). Should this expansion become a reality, China will have effectively created a restriction-free zone just smaller than London (UK) (1,572 sq. km) and twice the size of Chicago (USA) (606 sq. km).

Whist restrictions will not be lifted in other parts of the country, we should not underestimate the significance of this decision to allow partial liberalisation. I have written elsewhere about the significance of China’s seemingly small experiments with western concepts, such as their introduction of carbon trading zones. Whilst implementation may be slow, the long-term approach of the Chinese government has brought notable benefits and should serve as a model for good governance.

It is understood that the move has been designed to encourage the movement of Westerners into the area, as internet restrictions are a severe detractor for would-be immigrants who enjoy unrestricted internet access at home. There will of course also be significant benefits for Chinese citizens living within the zone, and China-watchers will be hoping this is a tentative first-step towards full-scale liberalisation.

Many Chinese leaders continue to be wary of the potential for unrest that unrestricted internet access may cause, yet the demands of modern economics may eventually render resistance to liberalisation futile. As China continues to expand and development sweeps westward inward investment will be increasingly important, necessitating internet and infrastructure development which Western countries are well placed to assist with.

Foreign companies will be able to bid to provide internet services within the Free-Trade Zone in a further indication that Beijing is keen for State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) to become increasingly globally competitive. This decision will serve as a welcome announcement to countries such as the USA who are eager to gain increased access to Chinese infrastructure markets, and may serve to ease tensions in the region.

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