China blocks VPN services that let users get round its ‘Great Firewall’ during big political gatherings in Beijing
The authorities in China have intensified their crackdown on VPNs, internet connections that bypass the country’s firewalls and online censorship, during the two main political gatherings of the year in Beijing this month.
Virtual private network users and one provider said services had been disrupted or blocked during the National People’s Congress and a meeting of China’s main political advisory body.
Astrill, a popular paid VPN service provider, said in a short statement: “Due to political meetings in Beijing there’s increased censorship, so access to VPN may be restricted at this time. Please be patient while we are working to fix this.”
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Users of other services, such as Cloud Ark VPN and ExpressVPN, have also complained about outages or slowdowns in the speed of their internet connections, particularly on mobile phones.
Some mainland service providers, including Xiaoyao, have also reported the suspension of services.
Foreigners living in China said the disruption has affected their daily life and business.
One Twitter user wrote on his account: “@astrill, I did not sigh up for a two year contract for this … already without VPN for one week in China! Has affected my business, not happy.”
Some tech-savvy young people in China have also expressed frustration.
They rely on the services to carry out activities such as posting photographs on Instagram, watching video streams on Youtube, playing online games or checking the Twitter updates on South Korean pop stars.
One white-collar worker from Shenzhen on business in Beijing, who asked not to be named, said the disruption to the VPN service seemed greater in the capital as it was working in their home city on Monday.
China has been championing the concept of “cyber sovereignty”, the idea that each country has the right to control its domestic internet space. The Great Firewall has blocked accesses to 135 out of 1,000 sites in one ranking of the world’s top websites, including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, according to Greatfire.org, an organisation that monitors online censorship in China.
Critics say the censorship not only limits freedom of speech, but also damages the nation’s ability to innovate. China’s top leadership has attached high importance to innovation to drive future economic growth.
One person wrote on social media that firewalls meant that people in China were unable to watch a match between a computer and a grandmaster in the board game Go.
“The artificial intelligence has been so developed that AlphaGo is going to beat the best human player, but we’re still searching for a working VPN service that allows us to watch the livecast,” they wrote.