Local authorities of the Hengqin New Area in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province confirmed Tuesday that they are planning to bypass the Great Firewall by opening special access to the Internet.
"We're cooperating with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and telecommunication providers including China Telecom to work on a plan. The local government will hand over the plan to related government bodies for approval," Liu, a press officer from the Hengqin government, told the Global Times, without giving details of their proposed timeline.
The Zhuhai Daily reported Tuesday that the New Area is also trying to gain support from the State Internet Information Office that would facilitate the establishment of this special access.
If passed, Hengqin will be the first region on the Chinese mainland where local residents can skirt the firewall and get access to blocked websites including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
"It would be very convenient to do business with our customers and investors from Hong Kong, Macao and foreign countries should the application be approved," Liu said, adding that most overseas investors care about Internet infrastructure in the New Area.
"By doing this, we are adopting suggestions garnered from overseas entrepreneurs who would like to invest in the New Area," Ye Zhen, deputy director of the Hengqin New Area's administrative committee, was quoted by the Shenzhen Daily as saying.
Calls to the MIIT's Telecommunication Regulatory Authority, the body responsible for approving such applications, went unanswered as of late Tuesday.
Experts suggest that Hengqin's move would boost the country's Internet openness in the long run.
"It will be symbolic if the application can be approved. Other regions and cities would follow suit and a better environment for the free exchange of information would be created," Li Yonggang, an Internet expert from Nanjing University, told the Global Times.
The mainland allowed Internet users in certain areas to be exempt from the restrictions of the Great Firewall during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and Shanghai World Expo in 2010, Li noted.
"The trend of opening the Internet completely is irreversible. The problem is whether Hengqin authorities would make relevant rules on how to regulate the use of the Internet," said Zheng Baowei, an Internet expert from Renmin University of China.
The Global Times reported last week that the new campus of the University of Macau on Hengqin island will be exempt from the restrictions of the Great Firewall after it relocates its more than 10,000 students from the special administrative region to Hengqin in September.
The Internet services on the new campus will be provided by Macao companies, a press officer of the university told the Global Times.