Well, folks. Looks like it might finally be time to move.
China has told its state-run telecommunications carriers to block individuals’ access to VPNs by February 1st, 2018, according to a report from Bloomberg which cites “people familiar with the matter” who do not want to be named.
Shutting down personal VPNs would effectively close the window on the way that many foreigners in China access sites outside of the Great Firewall, not to mention locals who also use the services to get around the censorship restrictions of China’s infamous “intranet” which blocks many popular foreign social media and news sites.
Of course, over the years, we’ve seen a number of frightening rumors about an all-out VPN crackdown come and go. However, apart from the occasional particularly sensitive period of time, expats in China remain free to use their VPNs to log onto Facebook or watch videos on YouTube.
But there is evidence that Xi Jinping may be looking to take his “cyber sovereignty” campaign to the next level. Back in January, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced a crackdown against unauthorized VPNs used to conduct business, while, earlier this month, GreenVPN notified its users that it was being forced to shut down after “receiving a notice from regulatory departments.”
If China does launch a massive crackdown against personal VPNs, it will likely undo all the work that it has done in recent years aimed at attracting more “high-quality” foreigners to come and work in the country. It also isn’t likely to help draw back those that have already left.
“This seems to impact individuals,” Jake Parker, Beijing-based vice president of the US-China Business Council, told Bloomberg. “VPNs are incredibly important for companies trying to access global services outside of China,” he said.
“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,” he continued.