Foreign tourists visit the International Grand Bazaar in Urumqi, the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region on July 23, one day after the landmark shopping and entertainment complex reopened.
Mobile phone users in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region received their first text messages in more than 20 days on Sunday night after the service, which had been suspended following the deadly July 5 riot in Urumqi, was resumed.
A short message service (SMS) text was sent to all users at 8 pm from the news center of the information office of the region.
The message said the public security situation in Urumqi had improved and urged residents not to believe rumors.
However, even though phone users received the public information service text from the government, they have not yet been able to send messages to one another.
The authorities say they have been gradually unblocking the Internet, as well as the SMS systems, in Xinjiang after the services in the autonomous region were suspended following riots that claimed almost 200 lives in Urumqi.
The government will also resume business and government-related Internet services, such as sites used by online business and government web sites, according to a Telecommunications Administration statement issued at the weekend.
Xinjiang has already restored Internet access for some "specialized" operations, such as Internet banking services, the online stock exchange and university enrollment services. The text messaging service for weather reports is also back online, the statement said.
The government suspended Internet access and the SMS system in some areas of Xinjiang in a bid to stop violence spreading. The Internet and SMS are believed to have played central roles in mobilizing rioters, according to Nur Bekri, the chairman of the region. The authority also feared that unfettered commentaries and images circulating on websites would stir up tensions.
Social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, were blocked across the country following the riots, and those Web sites remained inaccessible at press time.
The Telecommunications Administration appealed for the public's understanding but did not give any further details on when full Internet and SMS facilities would be resumed.
"We have received no instruction on when to fully resume the public Internet connection in Xinjiang," Haimiti Mijiti, vice-president of China Telecom's Xinjiang branch, told China Daily yesterday.
Responding to rumors that the Internet would not be restored until the Oct 1 anniversary of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, Mijiti said: "There is no set time given yet."
"Cutting off the Internet and short messaging service is the action that Chinese government decided to take. Under extreme circumstances, such as after the Urumqi riot, it is understandable," said Nigel Hickson, the acting director of the UK Department for Business Innovation & Skills. "But I don't think it is a long-term solution because the Chinese government cannot block the Internet and short messaging service forever."
For many in the region, the full restoration of Internet and messaging services will be a big step toward normality.
"Just like everyone else, I cannot wait to be reconnected," said Wu Di, a 27-year-old reporter from Xinjiang TV station in Urumqi.
Wu said his work had been deeply affected by the Internet lockdown and he misses being able to do online research and stay connected with contacts around the globe.
The Internet outage has also greatly impacted online businesses in the region.
"No Internet, no business for me," said Li Fenfa, an Urumqi resident who runs an online business selling dry fruit and who has seen no transactions after the Internet was cut.
(China Daily July 28, 2009)