By Ryan Strong
As anyone who lives in China knows, there are some websites that are inaccessible using regular Chinese internet. However, one of the main ways in which people-foreigners in particular- can avoid this Great Firewall is by using a VPN. A VPN essentially allows users to pretend that they are in a different area of the world, say the United Kingdom, and access any content which they wish. For some time, the Chinese government has tolerated the use of VPN’s. However, that may be coming to an end.
Currently, the government of China has a goal to clean up the internet by the end of March. One of the major ways in which this goal is meant to be achieved is by limiting the sale of VPN’s. This has led to the jailing of several distributers of VPN’s. Another example of the crackdown is the removal of VPN’s from the Apple Store due to government pressure. Allegedly, VPN’s were supposed to be banned by the end of February 2018. However, that has clearly not come to pass. Thus, it remains unclear how far the crackdown will actually go.
The motivation behind the crackdown is rather simple. First, President Xi Jinping of China has expressed a desire to assert internet sovereignty, thus allowing China to control completely what happens on its cyberspace. Second, and perhaps more fundamentally, China wishes to ensure that dissent is ultimately extremely difficult. In particular, the Chinese government is afraid of a repeat of the Arab Spring, a revolutionary movement that was ultimately organized on social media.
Several SAS students expressed strong opinions related to the crackdown on VPNS. Kenneth Shu, an 11th grader, stated his forcefully: “the only reason I still have my sanity is because of my VPN.” Other students, however, did not really want to discuss the issue. As the author had sent out his request for quotes on WeChat, several students felt that the government of China would disapprove of them expressing their opinions, as it was a politically sensitive topic.
In the final analysis, it is unclear what the future will hold for VPN’s in China. Perhaps one possibility is that VPNs for corporations and expats will still be allowed, while VPNs for ordinary Chinese citizens will be banned. Whatever the future will hold, it is clear that Xi Jinping and the Chinese government are consolidating their power.