Chinese city draws ire with controversial cloud zone

The city of Chongqing wants to build an IT hub free of China's Internet censorship

A cloud development zone being constructed in the Chinese city of Chongqing has drawn scrutiny for an alleged plan to offer uncensored Internet access, but only for foreign businesses.

The city's Cloud Computing Special Zone will be home to a handful of state-of-the-art data centers and is designed to attract investment from multinational companies and boost China's status as a center for cloud computing.

To attract business, the Chongqing municipal government will provide the site with unrestricted access to the Internet, meaning companies located there won't be restricted by China's pervasive Web filtering system, according to Chinese media reports.

That has sparked an uproar among some Chinese Internet users, because the unfiltered Web access will be available only to foreign companies, according to the reports. People commenting on social-networking sites have slammed the zone as a throwback to the days of "No dogs and no Chinese allowed,"a reference to how local Chinese were prohibited in the early 20th century from entering certain foreigner communities.

China is infamous for its Web censorship, which is used to block politically sensitive or anti-government content. Foreign websites including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all have been routinely blocked. Government censors block users from posting or searching for certain keywords on social-networking sites.

The Chongqing Economic and Information Technology Commission, which is overseeing development of the cloud zone, declined to comment on whether the media reports about Web access were accurate. A spokeswoman said the commission continues to "push forward" with the project.

Pacnet, an Asian telco provider, signed an agreement with the local government in March to build one of the first data centers in the cloud zone. It too declined to comment on the reports.

"We will leverage Pacnet's global capabilities to attract multinational companies to Chongqing to achieve our goal to become China's major information technology hub, to further accelerate the economic growth in Chongqing," Chongqing Mayor Huang Qifan said in a statement at the time.

News of the special zone was first reported earlier this month by the Chinese publication "Southern Weekly." Some online news reports on the topic have since been taken down, likely by censors.

One Chinese reporter who covered the story said in an interview that his government sources came under pressure after his article appeared and would no longer discuss it.

If China has granted the zone unfettered Web access, it will provide foreign companies, and possibly some domestic firms, greater rights and freedoms than China's 1.3 billion citizens, said Phelim Kine, an Asia researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"It goes beyond ironic," he said. "The Chinese government is marketing an uncensored, unfiltered Internet connection as a selling point, while they so blatantly and purposely deny that right to the vast majority of their citizens."

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