China 'may unblock' Twitter in Shanghai trade zone

Young Chinese man in an internet cafe There are more than 591 million net users in China

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The Chinese government could be about to relax some of its strict censorship laws in part of Shanghai, a Hong Kong newspaper reports.

The South China Morning Post reports that Facebook, Twitter and other websites are to be unblocked in a free-trade zone of the city.

An unnamed official said the move was to make foreigners "feel at home".

Facebook and Twitter have been blocked since 2009, following riots which the government blamed on social networks.

The Chinese government routinely censors the internet and blocks access to websites it deems inappropriate or politically sensitive.

At home

According to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) the country now has more than 591 million internet users and 460 million mobile web users.

The South China Morning Post report names Facebook, Twitter and the New York Times as sites that will be unblocked in the zone that is due to be launched at the end of this month.

The paper quotes a government official explaining that the relaxation is to make foreign visitors feel more at home.

"If they can't go on to Facebook or read the New York Times, they may naturally wonder how special the free-trade zone is compared with the rest of China," the source said.

The paper also reports that the government is inviting bids from foreign telecoms firms to bid for licences to provide internet services in the zone.

While some see the move as a crumbling of the famous Great Firewall of China, others are not so impressed.

"Small steps forward in China may be good news, but what is really important is that US web companies do not co-operate with any Chinese government requests," said Jim Killock, director of the Open Rights Group.

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