China's Hainan unveils plan to allow tourists to bypass censors

Recreational facilities located in front of Atlantis Sanya hotel in China's Hainan province. Usage of services including Facebook and Twitter would be allowed in areas of Hainan's two biggest cities of Sanya and Haikou. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Hainan, the southern Chinese tropical island seeking to become a global tourism attraction, plans to allow foreign visitors access to currently blocked sites such as YouTube.

Usage of services including Facebook and Twitter would be allowed in areas of Hainan's two biggest cities of Haikou and Sanya, according to the provincial government's three-year plan posted on an official website.

The document said access would be granted in areas where tourists gather, without being more specific. It also didn't say if the proposal has the support of the national government.

China blocks a raft of foreign websites and social networks through a sophisticated network of censors known as the Great Firewall, restricting access to Instagram and Snapchat as well as foreign media including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

Google has had most of its services blocked for years after the company refused to self-censor search results.

"Within the two important tourist cities of Haikou and Sanya, we have a plan to build a foreign tourism zone based on the development experiences of Bangkok, Spain's Majorca and other cities," the document read. "Within those zones, foreigners will be able to use as normal popular overseas services such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube."

The plan though quickly faced some criticism on Chinese social media.

"Are we establishing the 'one country, two system' policy in Mainland China now?" said Wu Ran, a user on China's microblogging site Weibo.

Another Weibo user, who uses the handle "late night cat"said: "This is an entirely blatant, contemptible, imprudent, low behaviour of reverse racism. This is garbage!"


China said in April it aimed to make Hainan an international free trade zone by 2020, an announcement that precipitated a short-lived property boom on the island.

Under the plan revealed on Thursday, Hainan said it aims to increase visitor numbers by 25 per cent annually to at least 2 million by 2020 and will promote tourism through advertising on foreign broadcasters such as BBC and CNN.

It said it would boost subsidies to increase the number of international direct flight routes to and from Hainan to 100 by 2020 and would abolish restrictions on foreign investment in air, rail and waterway transport.

The island will also ensure credit and debit cards issued by foreign card companies Visa and MasterCard are accepted at major tourist sites, hotels and shops by 2019, it said.

The latest Hainan government plan did not mention gambling or casinos. Media reports had said that China was considering allowing sports betting or a lottery on Hainan in a move that could open the door to physical casinos.

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