Internet censorship has long been a thorn in the side of activists, journalists, and others who seek out news and information that may be banned in China. The ongoing crackdown on online speech under Xi Jinping is also increasingly impacting the day-to-day work of business people, academics, scientists, and others who rely on the internet to conduct research or business with associates abroad.
At this year’s Two Sessions parliamentary meetings in Beijing in February, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference vice-chairman Luo Fuhe issued a proposal to improve access to foreign websites, citing the scientific and economic cost of current internet controls. Yet since then, an intensified crackdown on VPNs has hit the scientific and business communities especially hard.
New regulations in January initiated a campaign against Virtual Private Networks, which allow internet users in China to bypass blocks in the Great Firewall that bar access to certain websites hosted outside China. VPNs have become a main target in a campaign which appears aimed at limiting access to outside information in the run-up to the 19th Party Congress meetings in October. In August, five domestic internet companies were told to cease selling VPNs and a year earlier, Deng Jiewei was arrested in Guangdong and later sentenced to nine months in prison for selling illegal VPNs.
While VPN use has been officially restricted in China for years, authorities have largely tolerated their use. Government officials, including Fang Binxing, the creator of the Great Firewall censorship system, have been known to use VPNs to navigate the World Wide Web.
Is it a coincidence that the creator of the Great Firewall of China himself uses a VPN Service?