The Chinese government has told the South Korean embassy that it would soon lift the restrictions it placed on the mobile messaging services Line and KakaoTalk, according to a Korean diplomat, but did not specify exactly when.
Access to them and other popular services such as Instagram has been severely disrupted in China for more than a month in what, analysts say, appears to be part of a clampdown on foreign social networks.
“The Chinese authorities have not lifted the blockage of KakaoTalk and Line, saying the situation is not resolved yet,” the diplomat was quoted as saying today by the Yonhap news agency.
Kakao and Naver, the two South Korean firms that run the apps, which can be downloaded almost anywhere there is internet access, said they did not know why their services were not running properly or when they would work again.
A Kakao spokesman said the problem involves blocked access to domains and is happening only in China. “We have to be careful in speculating about the possible causes,” he said.
Technology industry experts in South Korea told the website Business Korea that the Chinese government suspended the services of Line and KakaoTalk in order to protect domestic services and to prevent terrorist actions.
Jane Zhang, a Beijing-based analyst with Gartner consultancy firm, pointed out that the fact so many foreign messaging apps have become inaccessible means many Chinese users would indeed switch to domestic alternatives: WeChat and QQ.
“Nowadays almost every user of social network tools have several apps on their phone. They wouldn’t only rely on a single app,” she said.
“So since the foreign apps are not working, it’s only natural that many of the users have switched to the local ones, like WeChat, QQ, and Momo. If users feel that the apps are not always running, they might ditch it forever because it’s not reliable.”
The app for Instagram, the online photo- and video-sharing platform owned by Facebook, was removed from major Android app stores last month. But it remains working and available on the Apple app store.
The app’s disappearance came after the mainland’s propaganda department asked major app stores to remove some social-network tools, three people close to different app stores said.
“We got a notice from above saying the images it transmitted broke the Chinese law, so we had to take it off the shelves and had to be blacklisted,” one of them said.
Mainland users also have not been able to access Yahoo’s Flickr photo-sharing site and Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage service. A number of Google services in the country have been blocked in the past month, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have long been banned in China.
Since President Xi Jinping took power last year, the government has throttled online dissent and harshly punished those it views as critics of Communist Party rule and threats to its stability. Campaigns to “clean the internet”, as the mainland media put it, and get rid of rumour-mongering and pornographic material have affected both domestic and overseas internet services.
The Chinese government is also pursuing antitrust investigations of both Microsoft and Qualcomm.
Beijing’s push has been accelerated by rising tensions with the US over cybersecurity threats. In recent months, Apple and Microsoft have been criticised in the state media, which questioned the security of their technologies.