Beijing: China will completely block access to much of the global internet as part of a sweeping crackdown aimed at suppressing dissent and maintaining the Communist party’s grip on power.
According to a report by the Guardian, the government has ordered China’s three telecommunications companies to completely block access to virtual private networks, or VPNs, by February 2018.
The three internet providers, China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, are all State-owned.
China operates the largest internet censorship regime in the world, blocking access to thousands of websites including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Internet controls also mean news and commentary critical of the ruling Communist party and information about events like the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre are almost impossible to find within China.
But millions of Chinese citizens circumvent China’s censorship system, known as the Great Firewall, by using a VPN, allowing unfettered access to any website.
The latest directive comes as China prepares for a twice a decade political meeting in Beijing in late 2017, with various factions within the government jockeying for dominance in any potential shuffle of top officials.
It also comes on the heels of a 14-month “cleanup” of internet services announced in January, part of president Xi Jinping’s push for so-called “internet sovereignty”.
The ban on VPNs could also harm academics, software developers and foreign businesses. For years Chinese researchers have complained they lack adequate access to overseas journals and methods to communicate with universities around the world, while developers rely on code hosted on websites based outside China.
Foreign businesses in China often use VPNs to secure their company data or communicate with company headquarters. It is not clear whether the ban will affect corporate VPNs.