Western media are hailing news that the Shanghai Free-trade Zone may allow blocked websites like Facebook and New York Times.
The news comes from South China Morning Post's reporting of an unnamed government source's statement: "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."
If the unnamed source's comments are accurate, then that alone is semi-groundbreaking because top Chinese government leaders have never officially admitted to blocking specific websites. The government says it censors "unhealthy" content, but it's higher-level officials have never officially admitted to blocking specific websites.
The China blocks on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have been in place since 2009, while blocks on Bloomberg.com started last year after the site published an article detailing the wealth of China's government elite. The New York Times' website has been available on and off since 2000, with the latest outage attributed also to its publishing of articles detailing the relationships and wealth of Chinese government leaders.
If the Shanghai Free-trade Zone in fact does allow blocked websites, it will not be such a big deal. Chinese Internet users can currently access Facebook, Twitter, and other sites through both free and paid proxies. Some hotels and office buildings in Chinese cities also do offer access to otherwise blocked sites through virtual private networks from VPN companies like Kovurt.com and Express VPN.