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Eversheds comment: Shanghai free trade zone will act as a testing ground for greater liberalisation and freedom of speech

  • China


    Commenting in light of plans to allow greater internet access for individuals and organisations in a planned free trade zone (FTZ) in Shanghai, Nigel Stamp, partner and head of the Asia technology group at global law firm Eversheds, says:

    "This is a clear step in the right direction for China's leadership in terms of relaxing the iron grip that it has traditionally exercised over those living and operating in China. However, there is clearly still a long way to go in improving China's traditional relationship of mistrust with the web, and in particular with social media, due to its encouragement of free speech and a more liberal way of thinking than is espoused by the Communist Party.

    "Of perhaps greatest significance is a move by the authorities to allow greater competition in the FTZ, by allowing foreign telecoms companies to bid to provide internet services within the zone. Such a move is virtually unheard of in a country that has historically made doing business incredibly difficult and even at times disadvantageous for foreign enterprises, particularly in the technology sector.

    "By allowing access to western websites within the FTZ, Chinese authorities have created another testing ground for greater liberalisation and freedom of speech within its territories, to sit alongside Hong Kong and Macau, which the authorities have already allowed to function as entirely free zones for the web. Of course, the FTZ is the first time that this liberalisation has been allowed within the Chinese trade zone (Hong Kong and Macau being independent ports in that respect), and the real test will come when the initiative officially launches on 29 September this year. Whether the authorities follow through with allowing unbridled access to the internet and refrain from censorship in the months following the launch remains to be seen."



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