China authorities have amplified their crackdown on VPN services across the country, web connections that bypass firewall security and online censorship will from now be blocked. These measures have been imposed in the wake of two key political meetings that were set to happen in Beijing this month, one involving National People’s Congress party and another gathering of China’s largest political advisory body.
Those using VPN services have been raising concern about fluctuating connectivity via their networks ever since the event started. It has attracted approximately 3,000 delegates at Beijing’s Great-Hall of the People, and is expected to run on until March 16th. Known for its strong-arm censorship programs, the Chinese government has already blocked many foreign sites, including Google, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Even so, these measures haven’t prevented Internet users from finding their own ingenious ways of circumventing the blockages.
One of the popular VPN services, Astrill, has warned its users of limited access to VPN, telling its clients to be patient as they work on fixing the issue. They mentioned in a short statement that these were mainly being caused by the ongoing political meetings, which have caused temporary restrictions on VPN services for security purposes.
Those using other VPN services like ExpressVPN and Cloud Ark have also protested the outages and web connection slowdowns, particularly affecting mobile phones. In addition, some mainland providers such as Xiaoyao have reported suspension of their services. Foreign nationals living in China have said that the disruptions have affected their business operations and daily life.
Some VPN services users have taken their frustrations on Twitter, with one accusing Astrill that he did not sign up a 2-year contract with them for this to happen. According to him, staying without VPN for almost a whole week in China has affected his business and led to frustrations.
Young tech-savvy Chinese citizens have also not been amused by this disruption. They use these services to conduct various online activities such as uploading Instagram photos, streaming YouTube videos, playing virtual games and checking Twitter updates of their favorite South Korean pop stars. However, it seems like the restriction is only effective in Beijing city since those living in other parts of the country haven’t experienced any problems whatsoever. In fact, a white-collar office worker from Shenzhen on a business trip to Beijing said he could still access VPN services from his home town. This was as late as Monday 7th before he traveled to the capital city.
China has been advocating for “cyber sovereignty,” which is the notion that each independent country has a right to control its own domestic Internet space. Their flagship censorship program nicknamed The Great Firewall has imposed restrictions on 135 out of a possible 1,000 sites. This was done in a single operation that targeted the world’s most popular websites such as those mentioned above.
Critics say that the current VPN services censorship does not just limit on freedom of speech, but also impedes country’s ability to innovate new technology. China’s top leadership attaches high importance on innovation as a driving force for future economic growth.
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