The notorious Great Firewall strengthens its hold over the people in China, blocking off access to a number of prominent virtual private network (VPN) services in the country. The Chinese government has long been locked in a struggle to suppress what it deems to be inappropriate content stemming from the Internet, but recent actions have shown the government making stringent efforts to bring censorship to a whole other level.
That’s where VPN comes in — serving as the most common way to get around China’s “Great Firewall”, a nickname for the country’s sophisticated censorship tool until last week, when widespread reports of the blocking of popular VPN services including Golden Frog, StrongVPN and Astrill came about.
China’s Global Times, an English-language version of the state-run People’s Daily, reported that clients of several widely-used VPN services based outside the Middle Kingdom submitted complaints that they could not access the services from the mainland.
VPN provider, StrongVPN said in a statement:
“We are currently working diligently to find a resolution with certain servers not working in China. We would like to remind our users, during this period there may be exceptionally high wait times in our Live Chat system.”
The state news agency, Global Times, claims that the outages are due to “upgrade work” being carried out in China’s massive internet censorship platform, going as far as to quote that these blocks were of utmost importance in order to uphold “cyberspace sovereignty”.
A Possible Workaround:
All hope is not lost as there are still ways to overcome the Great Firewall’s authoritarian bans on content — by using VPNs from overseas. Most VPN customers in China use this service to connect with popular but locally banned sites such as Facebook and Twitter. While the Chinese government turns a blind eye towards limited VPN use, it is mandatory for VPN firms that decide to operate from within the country to register with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
Bill Bishop, an expat and writer of the well-received email newsletter, Sinocism China Newsletter, is a user of Astrill, one of the leading VPN providers that recently went out. Bishop’s way of getting around the VPN block is by purchasing a few different commercial VPN’s as a back-up. The writer thinks that China is actively singling out foreign VPN providers because more domestic citizens are using them to bypass China’s censorship apparatus.
By adopting stricter censorship policies, China risks cutting itself off from the rest of the world; which may in turn contribute to deep and negative implications that can affect the country’s international relations, especially in education and academic research, and could potentially drive out foreign investors trying to do business in China.
Even so, the rest of us remain resilient and unfazed by these blocks as we trust that VPN service providers will much sooner find a way to sidestep China’s ‘closed-internet’ policy than bow down and admit defeat to the the Great Firewall.