June 22, 2018 / 11:14 AM / 3 months ago

China's Hainan says will partly lift "Great Firewall" to lure foreign tourists

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, June 22 (Reuters) - China's southern province of Hainan will offer foreigners unrestricted internet access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as part of new incentives to boost tourism.

The island province known as China's Hawaii because of its balmy climate and resort-lined coastline, will create a special "gathering zone" for foreign tourists where they can access such sites. Hainan's provincial government detailed the plan on its website on Thursday.

The move would mark a rare departure from China's long-held stance on the internet, where many foreign websites are banned in the name of maintaining social stability, a restriction dubbed by netizens as the "Great Firewall".

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!"

FOREIGNER-FRIENDLY

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 percent 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. (Reporting by Yawen Chen and Brenda Goh; Additional Reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Neil Fullick.)

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