The South China Morning Post reports the Chinese government is allowing access to otherwise restricted sites like Facebook to those in the Shanghai free trade zone.
In many ways this parallels the original Special Economic Zones set up by the People’s Republic of China at the beginning of the 1980s – these areas’ separate legal, immigration and economic status attracted foreign investment and trigged the economic boom that’s seen China become one of the world’s biggest economic powers.
Just as manufactured goods were the key to the nation’s development 30 years ago, today it’s information as the PRC leadership works on moving China up the global value chain.
For a nation of knowledge workers to succeed, the workers have to have access to knowledge.
It’s claimed the humble fax machine was responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union, how true that is open to debate but an open flow of information is never good for those who rule without the support of their citizens.
With the explosion of Chinese social networking sites, it’s become harder for the government to control the flow of information between citizens and the opening of the internet in parts of Shanghai is another small change.
How the Chinese Communist Party manages to keep the support of its increasingly affluent and better informed citizens will define the course of 21st Century history.
As China shifts from being a low cost manufactured goods supplier to a more sophisticated, diverse and expensive economy the government has no choice to face these challenges.
Beijing’s cadres would be hoping our children aren’t talking about Facebook in 2012 Shanghai in the same way that we talk of fax machines in 1982 Leningrad.