After 312 days of life under the murky veil of heavily restricted (and mostly non-existent) Internet, Xinjiang is plugged back into the world wide web. The local government announced today that Internet connection was restored to “meet the needs of maintaining stability, boosting social and economic development and the calls from all ethnic groups.”
For those that are new to this story, the government pulled the plug on Xinjiang’s Internet access, text messaging and international calls as a direct result of the deadly ethnic riots on the streets of its capital city, Urumqi over 10 months ago.
Okay, but we’ve heard this announcement of “restored Internet connection” before…but on these terms “connection” simply meant access to a handful of government news sites (People’s Daily and Xinhua News) and popular Chinese Web portals (Sina and Sohu). So could it be possible? Can one officially G-chat from Xinjiang? The answer is delightfully, yes. Far West China blog reports from Xinjiang:
“Residents of Xinjiang woke up from a 10-month nightmare this morning to find that their computers could finally connect to the world wide web.[…] It’s not exactly clear what, if any, restrictions still apply but programs such as proxies and VPNs which yesterday were ineffective can now be used. Gmail and chat programs are available.”
As part of this full restoration the local government has issued an “Open Letter” to the netizens of Xinjiang, thanking them for their understanding and patience as the government now (paradoxically) recognizes that the Internet is indeed a “vital component of the life of modern society.” (The New Dominion offers a full translation of this letter).
But before the estimated 7 million Internet users in Xinjiang can dust off their mouses and plunge head first into cyberspace, they should take heed. The official announcement of Internet restoration also threatens severe punishment for anyone caught spreading harmful information via the Internet. The announcement on Tianshannet states:
“The web users should not do anything that hurts the Internet environment or harms ethnic unity, social stability and national interests.”
Additionally, the government has set up a phone and email hotline for internet users to report “harmful” misuse of the web.
As information flow begins to breathe connection and confidence into this formally veiled region, it remains to be seen what the government’s idea of “restored connection” will actually entail in light of ethnic tensions and fresh memories of the deadly riots. So far, it seems like the netizens of Xinjiang are finally being offered the “access” to information that all Chinese netizens are afforded: Internet under the Great Firewall.
Read more about Xinjiang here.