China to develop $154m tech centre free of web restrictions

The Chinese government is spending a reported US$154 million(RMB 1 billion) to develop a 10sqkm, cloud-based technology centre for high-tech and start-up firms in the country’s south-western city of Chongqing.

The facility, described as a “‘cloud computing‘ Special Administrative Region (SAR)”, will crucially be free of the country’s strict internet censorship filters, known as The Great Firewall (GFW), potentially enabling it to become a significant hub for firms across the country and potentially the surrounding region.

Penn Olson has further details on the project whose building work began in April:

Presumably the Cloud Zone will get free, unfettered internet access – though only for its authorized workers; no people will live in this SAR – so as to enable the mix of start-ups and tech giants to engage more normally with developments around the world in cloud computing.Singapore’s Pacific Telecommunications is reportedly setting up in the Cloud SAR, where it’ll have 30,000 servers. This comes at a time when major sites such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon are rolling out new cloud services to ordinary consumers.

The Cloud SAR (云特区 in Chinese) is being built in Chongqing, in south-western China, further indicating a shift in state policy towards building up the Chongqing and nearby Chengdu areas with hi-tech zones. Recently we’ve also seen Acer set up a plant in Chongqing, and Philips this week announced it’d be joining Foxconn with its new facilities in Chengdu.

As Penn Olson notes, the lack of media coverage around the development is surprising given its significance and the financial investment. However, with the GFW bypassed, no doubt the government (through its media) will be keen to downplay any possibility that internet restrictions could be lifted for the general population inspite of this particular exception.

There is often much talk of potential Silicon Valleys outside of the U.S. with Indonesia, India and China – thanks to their large populations – typically suggested as potential venues. While this news itself isn’t the launching of a ‘Chinese Silicon Valley’ per se, the fact that the government is prepared to sacrifice its strict web controls for the sake of investment and business, indicates that China could yet emerge as a centre of power for the Asian tech industry, despite many of the country’s issues.

However, it seems that for now Chinese firms will be given priority such is China’s track record with many western web firms. Twitter and Facebook remain blocked to public internet users, while LinkedIn was briefly banned, Google had/continues to have ongoing spats with the government and other web firms, like Flipboard, have reported issues of service and access from the country.