VPN clampdown: Is it serious this time?
In June, GreenVPN — a popular Chinese virtual private network (VPN) service that allows customers in China to get around the censorship of the Great Firewall — was shut down by the authorities. As Global Voices reports, rumors of a strict crackdown on all VPNs spread quickly on social media.
The Great Firewall has for many years interfered with the operation of VPNs used by consumers, sometimes making them difficult to use, but there has not yet been a strict, nationwide campaign to eliminate their use. Many company networks use the same technology, so completely banning them would not seem likely, but it does appear that there is a serious campaign to stop the use of personal VPNs: Bloomberg says that state-run telecommunications firms, including China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom, have been ordered “to bar people from using VPNs.”
The campaign so far seems to be directed at China-based VPN services; several people in Shenzhen, Chongqing, Beijing, and Changsha told SupChina via email that overseas-based VPN providers appear to be working normally.
Bloomberg notes that “it’s unclear how the new directive may affect multinationals operating within the country,” many of whom rely on VPNs, as do Chinese scholars and entrepreneurs. It’s also unclear how persistent the campaign will be — internet censorship campaigns in the past have often fizzed out, but the growing controls of the past few years make optimism difficult. Sources told Bloomberg that the latest private government directive called for complete blockage of individuals’ access to VPNs by February 1 next year — if this happens, it will be a very big deal.
Why China won’t help with North Korea
This is worth reading: On ChinaFile, Sergey Radchenko looks at the history of relations between China and North Korea and concludes that Beijing is simply not going to provide any meaningful leverage over Pyongyang and that Washington “has no recourse but to consider direct engagement.”
A grim vigil
Dissident Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波, out on medical parole from his 11-year prison sentence to have his terminal liver cancer treated, has been seen by two doctors from the U.S. and Germany:
- The foreign doctors contradicted Chinese government statements that Liu was too sick to travel.
- The Global Times published an edited video clip (with no context) of the German doctor praising the Chinese doctors who have been treating Liu. Also circulated by an unknown leaker: images and video of Liu’s wife at his bedside surrounded by a medical team, including the foreign doctors.
- The German Embassy posted a note of “deep concern…that certain authorities have evidently made audio and video surveillance recordings of the medical visit of Mr. Liu Xiaobo by a German doctor…against the expressed wishes of the German side.”
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed to Beijing for “a signal of humanity” toward the dissident.
- Noted legal scholar and recent Sinica Podcast guest Jerome Cohen writes on the painful choice facing dissidents like Liu: “exile or extermination.”