The Chinese government has announced a 14-month crackdown on the use of unauthorised Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), commonly used by visitors and native activists, amongst others, to communicate with the world beyond the Great Firewall of China.

Sunday’s announcement [Chinese] from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology reiterated regulations first outlined in 2002, but which have since been subject to sparse, selective or lenient enforcement. The new announcement promises a ‘clean up’ regarding the VPN situation in China, beginning immediately and running until March of 2018.

The document cites ‘disordered development’ in the state of the nation’s internet, and promises ‘urgent regulation’ and ‘governance’.

The new release emphasises that ISPs, CDNS and telcos may not construct privately built communications systems which facilitate the anonymity and neutrality of VPN connections without permission from relevant authorities, and may not sub-let IP addresses or bandwidth to secondary providers or individuals unless the latter have the necessary telecommunications licenses from the government.

Enterprises which gained the necessary permissions prior to December 1st 2012 are required to ensure that they have conformed to Beijing’s requirements, whilst those seeking to establish new network services will need to have completed the gauntlet of paperwork and permissions by the end of 2017.

Beijing is inclined to strengthen or loosen its hold on the VPN leash according to the exigencies of political or public relations events. Some have noted that the curiously time-limited window for the latest VPN crackdown ends when the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang‎, South Korea, begins. In 2016 VPN services in China were reported to be under severe and novel government restriction.

Visitors to hotels in Shenzhen and Guangzhou have reported good worldwide access to the internet via the hotels’ provision of VPN on its wireless networks, presumably also a sop to China’s need to balance VPN enforcement with the need to accommodate visitors expecting greater net freedoms.

It is currently possible for larger businesses such as Baidu to gain cross-border access at industrial scale in order to compete in global markets, though such connections are highly accountable to individuals and the relevant companies.

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