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China to relax rules on Facebook and Twitter in free-trade zone

China is set to relax its stringent rules on Internet usage by allowing Facebook, Twitter and a number of other restricted sites to be accessed in a planned free-trade zone [FTZ] in Shanghai.

The South China Morning Post cites anonymous government sources as stating that sites deemed sensitive by the Chinese government will be allowed to operate in the zone. China will also invite foreign telecommunications companies to bid to provide Internet and certain services within the FTZ.

The move is being made to make foreigners “feel like at home” in the FTZ, according to a government source quoted by the same publication.

"If they can't get onto Facebook or read The New York Times, they may naturally wonder how special the FTZ is compared with the rest of China," the source said.

Facebook had no comment about the report with Reuters not able to find anyone to provide comment from Twitter or the New York Times.

Chinese citizens haven’t been able to access Facebook and Twitter since the government made the decision to block them in 2009 following claims they stoked riots in Xinjiang province. The New York Times, meanwhile, was blocked after revealing the fortune that then Premier Wen Jiabao had amassed.

The FTZ is set to be launched on 29 September and will allow China to gauge “convertibility of China’s yuan currency” and “further liberalisation of interest rates”. The area will also give the country the chance to test reforms of foreign direct investment and taxation.

The area will cover an area of 28.78sq km in Shanghai’s Pudong New Area that includes the Waigaoqiao duty-free zone, Yangshan deepwater port, and the international airport area. Eventually the FTZ could be expanded to cover the entire Pudong district that is 1,210.4sq km in size.

China’s largest telecoms companies, including China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom, have been told of the decision to allow foreign telecommunications firms to operate in the FTZ. Sources stated that none of the trio has complained about the decision due to the fact the Chinese leadership, including Premier Li Keqiang, has backed the Shanghai FTZ.

Image Credit: Flickr (Philip Jägenstedt)