China promises more openness for possible Beijing 2022 Olympics

China says blocked US sites will be open to Web users during the Olympics, should Beijing be chosen as the venue for the games. But, it says, who in China wants to use them, anyway?

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

The Great China Firewall could come down for a couple of weeks in 2022.

The Great Firewall of China would come down temporarily should Beijing land the 2022 Winter Olympics, a government official said Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters in China, Wang Hui, a spokeswoman for the country's effort to bring the games to the capital, said that if the city gets the event, it will make the Internet open for all to access sites that are typically blocked, like Facebook, Twitter and Google Search. However, Wang argued that much of the talk about the "Great Firewall" is overblown.

"Everyone always brings up Facebook and Twitter, but people around me don't like to use it," Wang said, according to Reuters, which was in attendance at the media briefing. She went on to say that China's 650 million Web users are more than happy with their homegrown alternatives, like Weibo and WeChat.

"If you gave [Facebook and Twitter] to me, I would not use them," Wang said, according to Reuters.

China has long kept its population from a range of US-based websites. The government-instituted censorship is part of the ruling party's desire to limit free speech and stop Chinese citizens from sharing opinions on sensitive subjects. Earlier this year, China upgraded its Internet filtering to make its policies stricter and circumvention more difficult.

The impact on both the companies that are blocked and China's own people is major. China has a massive, growing Web population that companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google would all like to capitalize on. Meanwhile, China's Web users, including those who are younger and not so keen on the censorship, have attempted to find ways to express their opinions. On doing so, they find the US services blocked.

China's alternatives, like Sina Weibo, which is essentially a Twitter-Facebook mash-up, claim to offer the ability for free speech but have come under fire from critics who say the sites typically bow to government pressure. Indeed, most Chinese sites are quick to censor content or ban users entirely for minor infractions that could cast the government in a negative light.

The issue again cropped up on Wednesday after Wang was asked how the country would handle its Web censorship if it's awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics. Beijing hosted the 2008 summer games and promised a free and open Internet. When media arrived in the city, however, they discovered that many sites were blocked after the government inked a deal with the International Olympic Committee to maintain censorship.

China will not block sites during the 2022 Olympics, Wang said, according to Reuters. That would mean that for a two-week period in the winter of 2022, sites like Facebook and Twitter would conceivably be accessible. To what extent they'll be available, whether they'll be available outside of Beijing, and if there will be restrictions is unknown.

The IOC is expected to make its decision in July as to what city will host the 2022 Olympics. China has a 50-50 shot to again host the games: the only other city vying for the event is Almaty, Kazakhstan.