The Chinese government announced today that it will lift a longtime ban on sales of video game consoles, opening up the market to foreign companies in Shanghai's new free trade zone. China's State Council announced the decision in a statement issued Friday, saying foreign companies will be able to sell consoles across the entire country as long as they have established production and sales operations in the free trade zone. Each console will also have to be approved by China's Ministry of Culture before going on the market.

China banned consoles in 2000 over fears that video games may have a detrimental effect on the mental and physical development of children. Reports earlier this year suggested that Beijing was considering relaxing its policy, though officials later disputed such claims. Consoles have been available on the black market in China, though most gamers use PCs or mobile devices.

No timeline for sales to begin

Today's announcement follows earlier reports that China may be relaxing its longstanding bans on Facebook and Twitter within the forthcoming free zone. The People's Daily, a state-run newspaper, later refuted the reports, saying current "internet management measures" will remain in place in Shanghai.

It is not clear when sales of video game consoles will begin, as policymakers continue to draft new rules for the free trade zone. The government released a list of key principles governing the zone on Friday, though changes will be implemented over the course of the next three years. The new zone, located in the eastern suburbs of Shanghai, is seen as a promising sign that China may be loosening restrictions for foreign investors. It also comes at a crucial time for China, which has seen its economy slow in some key sectors after decades of rapid growth.

Update: In addition to lifting the console ban, a Wall Street Journal report says that China will be allowing foreign companies to "directly allow some internet services" in Shanghai; however, it's not clear whether the overall restrictions will be appreciably loosened.