When Beijing announced that Shanghai will set up a Hong Kong-like free trade zone in July, it’s probably the most exciting economic reform news in China in a very long time. There have been a lot of buzz and speculations since. But the news released yesterday came as bit of a surprise.
In an article that is making waves among China observers now, South China Morning Post revealed that Beijing has make a “landmark decision to lift a ban on internet access within the Shanghai Free-trade Zone to foreign websites considered politically sensitive by the Chinese government, including Facebook, Twitter and newspaper website The New York Times.”
It means that the zone will be outside of the boundaries of China’s notorious Great Firewall. The aim, according to a government source interviewed by SCMP, is to “let foreigners live and work happily in the free-trade zone” and “feel like at home.”
The move may have successfully sent out a welcoming signal to foreign business. But at home, the country’s nearly 600 million Internet users, 99.9% of which live outside of the special zone, couldn’t be more irritated by the news. Once again, in comparison to foreigners, they feel alienated in their own homeland.
“The Internet concession” is how many Chinese netizens call the Shanghai Free-Trade Zone now. For a country that hasn’t quite yet gotten over its recent history of being colonized by major western countries, that’s probably the last nick name Shanghai wants to associate with.
“A few decades after the revolution, imperialism is making a comeback with a concession free of the Great Firewall,” commented 五岳散人, a popular liberal voice on Weibo, China’s own Twitter-like micrblogging service.
And the biggest irony is that netizens’ sarcastic comments to the news on Weibo have been heavily censored – none of the comments in retweets is visible.
Nothing better describes the current situation than Confucius’s famous teaching “Inequality rather than want is the cause of trouble.” A small sample of netizens’ comments is more than enough to show how unhappy they are about the decision.
DASTGTGHTUUIJHI bitterly commented: “Preferential policies are called ‘preferential’ because they discriminate against a bigger proportion of the population.”
哀牢古人 , imitating the famous colonial-time sign “Chinese and dogs are not allowed,” mocked: “No free Internet for Chinese and dogs.”
连鹏: “I hope one day Chinese can enjoy the same rights as foreigners in China.”
北京厨子: “They first take away your basic rights, calling it socialism characteristics. They then restore those rights in select developed coastal regions, calling it reform. Did I get it right?”
凤凰205: “Our Foreign Affairs Ministry has always insisted that China’s Internet is the most free and open in the world. So why there is a need to lift Internet ban?”
沉睡森林V: “A new concession is here. Why can’t I get assess to Facebook?”
老金曰: “The policy creates nothing but more inequality. What saddens us is that our own people are denied the rights that those foreigners are enjoying. Why?!”
[UPDATE]: It turns out that an Internet concession is not coming after all. The good news is that everyone is still equally restricted.