China's Flickering VPN Service
In 2006, Time magazine’s controversial choice of Person of the Year, the World Wide Web recognized the formidable presence of growing online communities and the significance of user-generated content. The internet has allowed a platform for political discourse otherwise denied to citizens living in states ruled by propaganda.
Yet, the “Internet Power”, one of the key policies of China’s 13th Five-Year Plan, has been used by the Communist Party to realize its own economic and political ends.
The state’s support of domestic technology industries seeks to facilitate a structural transition from an economy based on investment to one fueled by consumption. According to Reuters, “China plans to invest 2 trillion RMB (323 billion dollars) to improve its broadband infrastructure by 2020 with the aim of taking the nearly entire population online.”
On the other hand, the Party explicitly calls for the use of Internet as a means of promoting the nation’s soft power in the guidelines of the Five-Year Plan, stressing the need to “strengthen online ideological culture, carry out the building of Internet content, develop a vigorous and progressive Internet culture, and purify the online environment”, reported ChinaFile.
According to China Daily, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) corresponded with President Xi’s inaugural address to the Cybersecurity Leading Group at the second World Internet Conference: “there is no national security without cybersecurity and no modernization without informatization.
However, many large non-Chinese websites cannot be accessed without virtual private networks (VPN). Yet they are increasingly bogged down by bureaucracy and are limited to government approved functions.
As Communist Party leadership is preparing for the 19th Century Party Congress in October, it is fortifying its power to exercise supervisory power over China’s internet access. Security apparatuses are accordingly being installed: from patrolmen who historically employed for mass gatherings in public space to police suspension of mobile services for “anyone who downloads even unblocked foreign social media services, such as WhatsApp”, reported Business Insider.
Thus, Chinese Internet users have experienced constant interruptions when trying to use VPNs to gain access to major websites such as Google and YouTube. Fearful of political humiliation and local insurgencies through online organizing, it is unlikely that regulation will be loosened before this year’s Party Congress comes to a peaceful end.