Personal VPNs to be banned in China by Feb. 1

Beijing calls for complete ban on individual VPNs by February 1 of next year

Image of URL listed as blocked on greatfirewallofchina.org. (Image by flickr user Ishikawa Ken)

Image of URL listed as blocked on greatfirewallofchina.org. (Image by flickr user Ishikawa Ken)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Beijing has ordered that all individual virtual private networks (VPN) be banned by Feb. 1 of next year, effectively cutting off most internet users from the much of the cyber world outside the Great Firewall of China, according to a report by Bloomberg.

The Chinese government has ordered the state-run telecommunications carriers, China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, to block all individuals from accessing VPNs after February 1, 2018, according to a sources familiar with the matter who spoke to Bloomberg.

The Great Firewall, the foundations of which started 2003 thanks to assistance from U.S. companies such as Cisco Systems, is a surveillance and censoring system, which both seeks to monitor potential political dissent and to block content that is deemed as unfavorable to the communist regime in Beijing or the corporations it supports.

Over the years, internet users have used VPNs to "jump over the wall" (翻牆), and because such products fall into a legal gray area, there has been a cat and mouse game running for years between Great Firewall operators trying to stifle VPNs and VPN companies seeking new loopholes. Since Chinese President Xi Jinping launched his "cyber sovereignty" campaign in 2014, the government has been tightening the noose around the few remaining loopholes in the Great Firewall.

Those internet users stuck inside the Great Firewall are blocked from accessing commonly used websites such as Google (and most Google products), Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, all major Western news websites, many email services, and Wikipedia, to name a few.

The new restrictions will surely make life all the more difficult for foreign expatriates trying to communicate with others outside of China and for all users to gain access to uncensored news. The extent to which this will affect international corporations operating in China, that have already been subject to a stringent and invasive Cybersecurity Law, is not yet fully known. Sources familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that companies will be able to lease lines for usage outside the Great Firewall of China, but will need to register the usage of such lines with the government.

In response to the announcement, Jake Parker, 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 then added, "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."

In stark contrast, virtually no websites are blocked in Taiwan, and added with its ranking as the fifth fastest internet connection speed in Asia, Taiwan could increasingly be an appealing locale for international corporations wishing to have more unfettered access to the Asia-Pacific region.