China plans to lift some internet censorship on the southern tropical island of Hainan to promote tourism. Visitors to select areas of Hainan will be able to access Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, according to a new plan authorities have put together to turn the province into a free trade port by 2020. It’s not clear if other banned platforms will be uncensored.
The three-year action plan was published on Thursday, but removed from the local government website by Friday, as spotted by the South China Morning Post. Though the plan was pulled, state media are still reporting on it as though the plan is on. It’s unclear why the plan was removed.
For Hainan, China will lift part of its censorship system, or what’s known as the Great Firewall, that blocks access to most foreign social media and news sites. Tourists will be able to enter designated zones in Hainan’s two major cities to access Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Other banned foreign social media platforms, like Google, Instagram, or WhatsApp, haven’t been mentioned.
Ironically, China appears to be censoring people’s reactions to the news that some censorship is being lifted. One user on Weibo commented that people weren’t allowed a chance to provide any feedback on the new tourism plan. “Thousands of comments have since been deleted. As if censoring people solved the problem.”
In some ways, the move to lift censorship on Hainan isn’t entirely surprising, considering the island’s non-prominent location at the southernmost tip of China. In general, southern regions, like Hong Kong and Macau, tend to have looser regulation and receive less scrutiny from Beijing. Both Hong Kong and Macau, and nearby Taiwan, enjoy their own separate governments, although they sometimes receive pressure or warnings from Beijing. While Hainan is still ruled by China’s government, its new lack of censorship lets it fit in more closely with its neighbors who are able to access Facebook and YouTube.