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China's Hainan Province Will Offer Access To Facebook, Twitter, Youtube in Special Tourist Zones

Sanya, Hainan (by Alex Kwok via Wikimedia Commons)

South China's Hainan Province will set up special tourist zones where travellers will be able to access popular foreign websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube that are currently blocked in mainland China. 

According to state-run news outlet Global Times, this month the government of Hainan Province has issued a three-year plan to improve the internationalization of the tourist industry. The plan includes the creation of special tourist zones with unrestricted internet access for overseas visitors. This move has been compared to the establishment of special economic zones during Deng Xiaoping's reform and opening up era in the late 1970s and 1980s. 

China's internet is heavily censored by the Communist government. Last year Beijing launched a crackdown on the use of VPNs, which for decades have allowed users to bypass restrictions imposed by the authorities. 

The island-province of Hainan seems to be going in a different direction in an effort to promote its tourism sector as part of President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative. To that effect, on May 1 Hainan began to grant visa-free entry for up to 30 days to individuals from 59 countries, including the US, Canada and many European countries. Before the new policy was implemented, only tour groups from 21 countries could travel to Hainan without a visa for a maximum of two weeks.

Hainan was declared a Special Economic Zone in 1988, yet has failed to achieve the success of other zones, such as Shenzhen. The Chinese government hopes that tourism will boost the island's economy. In 2017 about 67 million tourists visited Hainan, but only about 1.1 million were overseas visitors. 

Chinese netizens' reaction to the news was mixed. Some compared the special tourist zones to the foreign settlements of the 19th and first half of the 20th century, enclaves administered by imperialist powers in which foreign citizens enjoyed special rights and privileges.   


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