From February 2018, VPNs will no longer be legal in China

11 Jul 2017

The Great Wall of China. Image: Vixit/Shutterstock

China is tightening its grip on its people’s access to the wider internet with plans to block all VPN services starting next year.

China is famous for its strict internet regulation and the building of the ‘Great Firewall’, which prohibits content that the state deems a challenge to the status quo or a threat to national identity.

This is being amped up again, with Bloomberg reporting that starting from February 2018, the country’s internet service providers (ISPs) will be forced to block all access to virtual private networks (VPNs).

VPNs are commonly used in China, as services familiar to many – including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube – are all blocked, with national social media services such as Weibo and Youku filling the gap.

Citing sources within the Chinese government, the move is seen as part of president Xi Jinping’s efforts to establish ‘cyber sovereignty’.

Despite this strict policy against international content, China’s legal stance on blocking VPN services had appeared less than concrete but, since the beginning of this year, it has become clearer.

A big deal for businesses

With the deadline for the VPN clampdown less than eight months away, multinational companies working in China are now facing tough choices.

Already, organisations operating or working with data centres based in China, such as Westone Information Industry, are seeing their shares drop by around 1.5pc in the wake of this news.

“VPNs are incredibly important for companies trying to access global services outside of China,” said Jake Parker, vice-president of the US-China Business Council.

“In the past, any effort to cut off internal corporate VPNs has been enough to make a company think about closing or reducing operations in China. It’s that big a deal.”

It is also expected to seriously impact expats who rely on news sources and social media that are currently blacklisted by the Chinese government.

This news follows condemnation of China by human rights advocates after it was revealed that the country’s regulator called homosexuality an example of “abnormal sexual behaviours”, saying it would be banned from being displayed online.

The Great Wall of China. Image: Vixit/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic