China keeps tight reins on internet access
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China keeps tight reins on internet access

There is a conundrum at the heart of Chinese internet use: on the one hand, the government restricts access to a wide range of sites and content – particularly that which can be found outside the country. On the other hand, Facebook, Twitter, and more seem to have sizeable number of Chinese users. Even state run newspapers seem to have access to the outside world. How is this possible? Through the use of ‘virtual private networks’ (VPNs), which redirect traffic to sites outside of state control. These have long been a legally grey area, but widely offered nonetheless. Now, that looks like it’s changing.

Popular provider GreenVPN sent a notice to its customers informing them that it would cease to function from 1 July, in response to “receiving a notice from regulatory departments.” It offered no further elaboration, but the message is clear: GreenVPN has been closed down by the Chinese government.

GreenVPN may not be the only service affected. SuperVPN, a competitor, also appeared to be inaccessible on Apple’s App Store – although it is as-yet unknown whether that is the result of further state-interference or a simple glitch. It is also true that a number of other VPNs have disappeared over the last two years, signaling a crackdown on Chinese users gaining access to foreign internet sites.

In January, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology detailed a number of priorities for control of online content in China, and the restriction of VPNs was one of them. The services are used by Chinese web surfers to access everything from politics and pornography to social media and entertainment.

The news comes as Premier Xi Jinping gives a hard-nosed political speech in Hong Kong on the 20th anniversary of its handover from Britain to China. In that speech, Xi seemingly backtracked on two-decade old promises that western values like freedom and democracy would trump those of the Chinese state. Taken together, these signals indicate that China is unafraid to play tough with western sensibilities.

Disclosure

Dominion holds a number of internet companies both within and without China in its Global Trends Managed Fund. 


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