In the “Notice of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on Clearing the Internet Market of Network Access Services” (“工业和信息化部关于清理规范互联网网络接入服务市场的通知“), the Ministry stated on January 22 that it will tighten control over Virtual Private Networks (VPN 虚拟专用网络) often used within China to access websites blocked by the ‘Golden Shield Project’ (better known as the ‘Great Firewall of China’).
The announcement says that authorities will start strengthening control over companies in the areas of Content Delivery Networks (CDN), Internet Data Centers (IDC) and Internet Service Providers (ISP), and that it will “put an end to illegal business activities,” which entails the unauthorized use of VPNs. The measurement is implemented to “promote the healthy and orderly development of the Internet industry.”
Companies will be able to apply for approval to set up or rent special internet connections for ‘cross-border operations’, but those without official approval will be barred from using VPNs.
“Without a VPN, how can we now go on Facebook to show our patriotism and love for China?”
The crack down on unauthorized internet connections, which will make most VPN service providers in China illegal, will last until March 31, 2018.
On Weibo, media outlets like China News used an image of pandas attempting to climb over a fence to reinforce the message.
Reactions on Chinese social media vary, with many netizens making sarcastic comments about the news. “Wouldn’t it just be better to cut off all Internet and shut down further contact with foreign countries?” some say.
Many others also comment: “Without a VPN, how can we now go on Facebook to show our patriotism and love for China?”
But there are also those who are confused on what the new regulations will mean for individuals, and many who are worried as they fear it will widen the gap between China and the rest of the world: “They will first restrict companies, then they will restrict individuals – it goes step by step.”
“Why are we not allowed to browse foreign websites in the first place?” another commenter wonders: “I simply don’t understand.”
According to a Shanghai-based IT expert quoted by Chinese state media, the crack down is needed to battle “illegal activities.” He told Global Times: “Some multinational companies in China such as Microsoft Corp have a reasonable need to communicate with their headquarters overseas via VPNs, but some corporations or individuals browse overseas Internet pages out of illegal motivations. In this regard, the new rules are extremely important.”
“This something that is often underestimated, but there are even walls within the Great Firewall of China.”
Some internet users from Xinjiang are especially concerned. For people from the region of Xinjiang in the northwest of China, home to the majority of Chinese muslims, the control on information flows is extra strict as the area has a history of social unrest. “I am from Xinjiang and I have to use a VPN to access most of my apps, like Xiami Music, Baidu Cloud or the Changba (music) app. Without a VPN, what else is there left to do on my phone?”, one commenter wonders.
“What’s up with that?” others ask: “I had a friend from Xinjiang coming over to Shenzhen recently, and although he has a 4G phone card he could not access it. When we called the information line we finally understood that nobody from Xinjiang can use 4G on their phones.” Another person comments: “This something that is often underestimated, but there are even walls within the Great Firewall of China.”
Besides worry, many people express their sadness over the stricter control of China’s internet. They post crying emoticons, writing: “Has our VPN era come to an end?” One person says: “This gives me a headache. If you have experienced the internet freedom of the 1990s, you’d understand how much this grieves me.”
“I don’t even know what a VPN is.”
Apart from those who worry, there is also a large group of Weibo users who are not too concerned about the new regulations for now. “Did nobody read the original text? This is about companies!”, one person said.
“Why should we want to use foreign websites when we have our own sites like Weibo or Youku?”, some say.
Many others have never used a VPN to ‘climb over’ the Great Firewall of China. “I don’t even know what a VPN is,” some commenters say.
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