In what could be a trial balloon, the Chinese government plans to lift its ban on "politically sensitive" foreign websites in Shanghai's new free-trade zone, according to government sources talking to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post. Facebook (FB +4.7%), Twitter, and the New York Times are among the sites that will reportedly be made accessible.
In addition, the government plans to allow foreign carriers to bid for licenses to provide Internet services in the free-trade zone. State-owned carriers China Mobile (CHL -0.8%), China Telecom (CHA -1.8%), and China Unicom (CHU -2.8%) have all reportedly been informed foreign companies will be able to compete with them in the area.
For now, the zone only covers 29 sq. km. But sources state it could eventually cover Shanghai's entire Pudong business district (1,210 sq. km), home to the Shanghai Stock Exchange and arguably China's most vital commercial hub.
The report comes shortly after Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg met with Chinese Web regulators. China already has a well-developed social networking scene, with Tencent (TCEHY.PK) and SINA claiming hundreds of millions of registered users for their respective platforms.