“You can finally use Facebook and Twitter in Shanghai! No, actually you cannot. Wait, we’re not sure.” This pretty much sums up what is known about the possibility of accessing these social networks – along with the New York Times’ website, which has been blocked following a clash with Chinese authorities – in the new Free Trade Zone in Shanghai.
Inside the zone, which covers 28 square kilometers and was launched last Sunday, companies will enjoy looser regulations in a variety of sectors, from services to videogames. Most reforms should come gradually in the next three years, but the project is already being hailed as a possible turning point and comparisons have been drawn with the opening of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in 1980, at the time a ground-breaking initiative. Chen Bingcai, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Governance, told Xinhua News Agency that “nationally, the FTZ is seen as a testing ground for new policies and reform,” and “will take the lead in driving growth in the Yangtze River Delta and even the entire nation.”
Expectations grew fast, but a cold shower was just around the corner. On the same day of the State Council’s statement, Xinhua quoted “relevant staff from the regulatory committee of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone” as saying that that the internet in the Free Trade Zone will be “managed by law with no exceptions”. No Twitter and/or Facebook, it seemed. The report, however, had a tricky ending: it repeated the State Council line, the one which looked benign to foreign social networks, giving the impression that not all hope is lost.