BEIJING (Reuters) - If Beijing is successful in its bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics then foreigners who attend will get uncensored Internet access, but this isn’t an issue for Chinese who “don’t like” sites like Facebook and Twitter, an official said on Wednesday.
China keeps a tight rein on its Internet. The government has warned that social media, particularly foreign services, could be a destabilizing force for Chinese society or even affect the country’s security.
Popular foreign social media sites like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook as well as Google Inc’s main search engine and Gmail service are all inaccessible in China without specialized software to vault what is known as the “Great Firewall”.
China had committed to providing media with the same freedom to report on the 2008 Beijing summer Olympics as they enjoyed at previous Games.
But when the main press center opened, journalists complained of finding access to sites deemed sensitive to China’s communist leadership blocked. A senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) official later admitted that some IOC officials cut a deal to let China block sensitive websites.
Wang Hui, spokeswoman for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games Bid Committee, told a news briefing that China was an open country committed to having an open Internet.
“Everyone always brings up Facebook and Twitter, but people around me don’t like to use it,” Wang said, when asked whether foreign visitors would access uncensored Internet access if the city won the 2022 Games.
“With our Weibo and WeChat, China’s 650 million (web users) can freely use these tools to exchange and receive information,” she said, referring to wildly popular Chinese social media tools which are subject to often quite strict government censorship.
“If you gave these (Facebook and Twitter) to me, I would not use them. I like using Weibo and WeChat.”
Foreign visitors, including the press, spectators or athletes, would get open Internet access in 2022, Wang added, without explaining how exactly this would work.
“Without a doubt, 2022 will be even more open than 2008.”
An IOC evaluation team is in China this week, and the final decision on who gets the Games will be made in July. The only other city bidding is Kazakhstan’s Almaty.
Despite being blocked in China, Beijing 2022 organizers have set up official Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, aimed at a foreign audience, though to little apparent effect.
The Beijing 2022 Twitter account, which sent its first tweet in early November, is only followed by some 550 people. Its official Facebook page has attracted just over 400 likes since it was sent up at about the same time.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry