Hengqin New Area Aims to Skirt Great Firewall

The Global Times reports that local authorities in the Hengqin New Area Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Zhuhai, Guangdong province have applied to bypass the Great Firewall. Local authorities are hoping that the State Internet Information Office, China’s Internet regulator, will allow access to blocked websites as a means to facilitate foreign investment in the SEZ, and Chinese Internet experts say that should the regulator allow the exemption, it could signify a move towards Internet freedom in China:

“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,” [Hengqin press officer] 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.

[…]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. [Source]

The Global Times reported earlier this month that land on the Hengqin SEZ has been handed over to the government of Macau, a semiautonomous Special Administrative Region (SAR), for the establishment of the new campus of the University of Macau. Since July 20, the future site of the university has been subject to the laws of the SAR:

As of July 20th, the new campus will be governed by the laws of Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR), said Cheong U, secretary for social affairs and culture of Macao SAR during his inspection of the new campus.

He noted that the new campus is a generous gift to Macao from the central government. On behalf of the Macao SAR government, he thanked the central government for its support.

The new campus is separated from Macao’s Taipa by a waterway on the east of Hengqin Island. Covering an area of about 1 square km, with more than 80 buildings, it is nearly 20 times larger than the current campus with its capacity to hold some 10,000 students. An underwater tunnel ensures convenient, 24-hour access to the new campus from Macao without the need to [go] through immigration clearance. [Source]

Macau has paid about $150 million for a 40-year lease on the land, and is also footing the bill for the campus’ construction. In addition to enjoying a lax immigration policy, future students at the University of Macau’s new campus will also be free from the restraints of the Great Firewall. The New York Times reports, noting that this new arrangement is unprecedented:

“As the new campus will be under the jurisdiction of Macau, Internet and telecommunications services will continue to be provided by Macau providers,” said Wei Zhao, the University of Macau’s rector. “What students can access in the current campus will be accessible in the new campus, YouTube and Facebook included,” he said, referring to two popular Web sites blocked on the mainland.

[…E]xperts interviewed for this article said there was no recent precedence for a chunk of Chinese land being passed to another legal jurisdiction in this manner, and certainly not for the sake of academic freedom.

While many professors and students in China find ways to jump the firewall, no other mainland campus has its own officially uncensored Internet connection.

[…]Jorge A.F. Godinho, an associate professor at the University of Macau’s law faculty, called it a “curious situation.”

[…]“It’s not permanent. It’s a rental — and Macau is paying” Dr. Godinho said.

The lease expires in 2049, the same year that the “one country, two systems” agreement giving Macau semi-autonomous governance ends. [Source]

Click through for to read the entire New York Times’ article, which continues to explain why foreign academic institutions are scrambling to set up shop in the mainland, and why China is eager to allow them to do so. Also see prior CDT coverage of Special Economic Zones, Macau, Internet freedom, and the Great Firewall.


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