China is making it increasingly difficult for its citizens to access the global internet using VPN services as the country's government looks to exert more control over the narrative surrounding the coronavirus epidemic.
Reports have claimed that several the most popular VPN services in China have faced an onslaught of government attacks in the last few weeks, making it more difficult for some users to access Google, Twitter and other censored sites as well as most foreign newspapers.
With a VPN, users in China can access the internet without the restrictions normally imposed on them by the country's Great Firewall. However, the Chinese government often restricts VPN usage during the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre as well as during other politically sensitive periods by blocking the servers needed to connect to a VPN.
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Many popular VPN providers have faced increased restrictions recently and ExpressVPN (opens in new tab) even commented on the matter on its website, saying:
“We are aware of a new escalation in blocks in China, and our team is working around the clock to address the impact on connectivity.”
As the coronavirus rapidly spread across China, the country's government officials tried to cover up the crisis but when their efforts backfired, citizens began to call for freedom of speech.
Many Chinese citizens have become increasingly suspicious of government cover-ups and some have even begun to seek out information on the outbreak from alternative news sources. For instance, daily traffic to GreatFire's FreeBrowser.org, which allows Chinese users to view uncensored foreign news articles, has almost doubled since the city of Wuhan was quarantined in late January.
Co-founder of GreatFire, Charlie Smith explained to the Financial Times why Chinese users have shunned domestic news in favor of international news, saying:
“Despite the wide availability of domestic news about the coronavirus, Chinese people are still looking to overseas, uncensored platforms, for more information. This is a very strong sign that most Chinese people do not trust the authorities to tell them the truth about the virus.”
Until China can get a handle on the spread of the coronavirus within its borders, expect the Chinese government's crackdown on VPN services to continue.
Via Financial Times (opens in new tab)