Uh Oh: China Will Block All VPNs By February 2018

If you’ve traveled to China you’ve probably faced the “great firewall,” where access to many websites is blocked. This includes Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Fortunately getting around these blocks is quite easy using a VPN — Tiffany wrote a post about exactly this a while back.

A VPN (virtual private network) allows you to connect to the internet using another network, so it looks like you’re accessing the internet from somewhere else. This allows you to access websites that are typically blocked in China.

VPN use is common in China, both among tourists and locals. Heck, I’d really struggle to justify visiting China if it weren’t for a VPN, given that I’d have no way of staying connected to email, etc.

Back in January I wrote about China’s plan to crack down on VPN usage. At the time, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced a 14-month “clean up” of internet access services, including VPNs.

At the time we didn’t have many details about what exactly this would entail, though it looks like we now have more information… and it’s bad news.

Bloomberg reports that the Chinese government has told telecommunications carriers to block access to VPNs for individuals by February 1, 2018. Per the story:

Beijing has ordered state-run telecommunications firms, which include China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, to bar people from using VPNs, services that skirt censorship restrictions by routing web traffic abroad, the people said, asking not to be identified talking about private government directives.

I’ll be curious to see if this actually happens, and if a further workaround isn’t developed somehow. The Chinese government has announced similar plans before and not followed through on them, so we’ll see if this is different.

On one hand I can appreciate China at least enforcing the policy they have (I think it’s ridiculous, but I’m always a fan of consistent enforcement of things), though on the other hand I don’t think a policy of censorship will work for a country as large and (in many ways) progressive as China.

What do you make of China requiring telecom carriers to block VPN access?

Comments

  1. China is not progressive. At all. Have you actually visited rural China extensively? I doubt it.

  2. I don’t think they’ll manage to do it. Anyone can set up a VPN, they’ll probably just try and block the more well known ones but people will still be able to circumvent the censorship.

  3. This will be very bad for my place of business as we often travel to China where we have a branch office and many customers. China needs to change their Orwellian Cold War mentality and come into the 21st century. Censorship to this degree has no place in modern society.

  4. Lucky, any idea if this would apply in HK as well? I will be living there from January to May of 2018. Thanks!

  5. The information on this that I read on Slashdot stated that they’re leaving in the exemption for corporate VPNs but are asking for corporations to only use them for internal access.

    I think it’s likely that they’re going to collect the addresses of vpn services and block them rather than try to identify VPN traffic and block the protocols.

  6. Agree with a couple of the above of comments that progressive is not a word that I associate much with China, especially in this regard.

  7. “On one hand I can appreciate China at least enforcing the policy they have (I think it’s ridiculous, but I’m always a fan of consistent enforcement of things)”

    I could not disagree with you more. That’s why I’m a fan of jury nullifying and refusing to convict someone for violating an unjust law for instance.

    Here freedom trumps consistent enforcement of a law to limit access to information.

  8. Used to go there for various electronic shows, but if this happens, I’ll be sure to skip them.

  9. @ eamonn I doubt this will be extended to hong kong. Hong kong and mainland china are extremely different. Also it may not be applied to some of the big western hotels in Shanghai.

  10. You called china a progressive country? Are you frickin kidding me? Also i am soo glad you are a fan of consistent enforcement. I guess you are also a fan of consistent use of torture and human rights abuses by china. Seriously try getting educated about a country before posting nonsense like this. If you actually knew the history of the current government then you would know progressive is not an appropriate description.

  11. It will still not prevent me from accessing google services while there. There are easy workarounds. The steps they would have to take to prevent me from accessing gmail would effectively isolate China from the entire internet outside China. That said, they are obviously going for the low-hanging fruit which is your average non-tech savvy person. I’m always amazed there aren’t more protests about this. I would be rioting in the streets if my internet was censored.

  12. You will still be able to access email, Facebook etc by using mobile data roaming (yes, it will be expensive).

    And, as was mentioned earlier, corporate VPNs will still work, or corporate intranets etc won’t work.

  13. Chinese government just denied there is an order to ban all VPNs, only unregulated ones. So there is no worry for international business or academic folk at least. How much it will impact individuals are remain to see.

    It is interesting that Luck seems has an eye China and post on Chinese issue frequently. As a Chinese I do appreciate it especially for the neutrality. But those posts do attract xenophobia or sinophobia alike.

    @William , you raised a good question. Did you ever visited rural area in China? Just as you asked others? If you did, you would understand what is progressive. Even in the deep mountains, you would have seem people using internet like crazy. Farmers are seeling their products directly to consumers via platforms such as Taobao with very low cost of logistics. Is it progressive?

    @Pete , what is progressive to you? what about mobile paying on any street vendor for a snack? or grab a bike on any corner when you have a mile to go but feel heavy on your leg while also don’t want to bother with a taxi? or take a train runs 300 KM /Hour from any city to another for a fraction of cost comparing to Japan or Europe? Or have a social media connect to any single soul you know and also as a portal to do anything matters in your life? Or buying or selling virtually anything on a platform without paying commission. Are those things progressive?

  14. @Eamonn Dundon
    No, this will not apply to Hong Kong.
    Hong Kong and mainland China have separate legal systems and laws in the mainland do not apply to Hong Kong (except for a select few enumerated in the Basic Law). The telecommunications infrastructure is separate too.

    Although Beijing has been trying to tighten its grip for some time now, banning all VPNs is a bit too ridiculous and is unimaginable in Hong Kong (for now).

    Since you will be in HK for quite a bit of time, I encourage you to read more about Hong Kong and its relationship with mainland China. Wikipedia is a good place to start.

    Sorry if it sounds like a rant but as a Hongkonger I’m a bit frustrated about the direction HK (and China) is heading.

  15. Lu Zhao: There is more to progress than technology. Any nation with enough money can purchase technological “progress.” The progress being referred to here is at the cultural and ideological level, which would seem to be lacking at the most fundamental level to anyone from a free, democratic background.

  16. Looks like the Chinese government is trying to protect its citizens from the tragedies those Western ‘democracy’, ‘cultural and ideological level’, and stuff caused to the people in Middle East.

  17. Lucky I am a huge fan of your blog but having lived in China and Hong Kong for a dozen years I am really confused by your tone here.

    Does consistency of enforcement really trump freedom of expression? Also when you say “progressive” are you referring purely to the technological development present in many cities? Socially the PRC is not a “progressive” country, lacking basic freedom of expression and suffering a government that is cracking down ever more on basic freedoms while cultivating a personality cult for its leader.

    I fear your are trying to avoid criticizing the PRC government a little too much. Always remember there is a huge difference between the Chinese people and the Chinese government.

  18. @Eamonn Dundon I have to agree with Tam here. If you are seriously planning a move to HK next year please take the time to introduce yourself to the most basic aspects of the city and its culture, and rule of law. These are essential to anyone who plans to spend time there. Hong Kong is not under PRC jurisdiction in these matters and a simple google search would tell you that instantly.

  19. @lucky Isn’t using a VPN illegal in China? If so aren’t you worried about getting into trouble?

  20. @Cargocult. There are things like Apple pay, Samsung pay and stuff in the West too, they were just not successful. When you are used to these advanced things in China, going to a country in the West feels like going back in the 20th century. As far as vpn goes, 99% Chinese won’t care, they are perfectly happy with local internet content and entertainment.

  21. China would suffer economically if they implement an across-the-board VPN blockade that would affect large transnational corporations that require effective/secure/private IT to do business globally. The crackdown, if implemented, would most likely target “rogue” domestic elements suspected of being “subversive” (read: critical of the communist party policies and using VPN to get their voices heard).

  22. “Progressive?” Please explain. Then again, this is coming from someone who chooses to spend his money on Middle Eastern airlines and visiting (and profiting) countries that are vehemently against his own lifestyle.

  23. @Chris it is possible. Chinese gov has a white list. Only foreign websites in the white list can be accessed.

    I honestly think Chinese gov lose their mind. China is a great country, it’s different from people’s perception on communist country except internet censorship.

    I think this is a terrible horrible stupid idea. I feel so sad for Chinese people since they are fooled.

  24. I am amazed how some people value highly on artificial concepts but dismiss the importance of people’s daily life.

  25. Frequent China traveler and IT person also. A few points:
    1. VPN block will NOT affect Hong Kong. They are _outside_ the Great Firewall.
    2. VPN block is likely to known IPs of major providers, on the VPN port.
    3. Many hotels catering to foreigners have an internet connection that doesn’t block sites blocked by the GFW, like Facebook and Google, anyway.
    4. Intra-company VPNs will not be blocked.
    5. You can probably still VPN using an HTTPS-based (so not on the standard VPN port) VPN, to your own computers not to known VPN providers.

  26. I would like to know what this means for (esp. western) hotels. I have had varying experiences. Some had fully open internet access, presumably through their own corporate network? In one case at a new Hilton it was wide open but on a later visit it was locked down probably because they were forced to get on a local service provider. I am thinking there are laws in China that force the hotels to use a local ISP that adheres to firewall / monitoring.
    On my last visit, at a Rennaisance, the Internet was slow and horribly restricted. I couldn’t even get my corporate VPN to connect to login. The GM has his IT guy get me a login to his fly-by-night VPN that he used there. It took working through a dozen access points to find one I could get to but got it to work on only one of them. I was amazed that a major western hotel chain had its Internet locked down that much. It was much easier to get around several years ago. It sounds like it will get even worse. Fortunately I do have unlimited data roaming on my mobile through work and that was working just fine.

  27. Is mostly an empty threat. So many ways around it. Never underestimate nerdy ingenuity. That’s why the riaa lost the music downloading war. There will be so many exceptions like every company in China that is not Chinese based like airlines, hotels, manufacturers etc. that managing the ip spoofing will be impossible.

  28. @Jim beat me to this. Good luck to the Chinese government trying to block VPNs. Sure, they can probably nail some of the larger VPN providers, but I’m not sure how they’d stop someone using port 443.

    Does anyone know if this applies to mobile networks as well? I know T-Mobile phones tunnel their way back to the USA for all traffic except phone calls.

  29. I am based in Mainland China and have been for a number of years and I wanted to provide some input in this matter.

    We have to remember that this is not the first time we have heard this kind of story so I really will not take it seriously until it happens. We also have to remember who is saying it – a western media source that is blocked in China and that has a negative view on China. Furthermore, there are just too many connections that there is no way they will be able to control all of the connections.

    With this said, the reason that Hong Kong and Macau are not included is because although these territories are ruled by China, they are legally separate from China. There is a border, separate rule of law, and visa requirements for entry, etc.

  30. As an American, I heartily endorse all measures to keep Chinese industry backwards and uncompetitive. Lock up that Great Firewall tight, Mr. She.

  31. Add me to the “progressive” – huh? camp.

    Just look at how Hong Kong has been held back for 20 years as one very obvious sign of lack of progression…

  32. I think blocking VPNs is just words, it is not possible to happen. Still, it is very annoying that when traveling to China one has to use some tricks to have the same access to the internet where in the other parts of the world. Seriously, I think Chinese Government should give up on censorship they already have made such a brilliant job brainwashing their citizens from the moment they are born they don’t need to worry they will listen to any foreign arguments. Just look at any article about China and the “Chinese Defenders” in the comments.

    Ben, seriously, I love your blog but you obviously must have been too jet-legged when you wrote you’re fan of consistent enforcement of things. I don’t think you’re a fan of Holocaust, which was very consistent enforcement of extermination, are you?

  33. LOL at all the China bashers above… If you truly have lived in China and cared enough to interact with the locals (rather than staying in the expat bubble) you would know how much personal freedom people have and how little people give a sh*t about your so-called Western political freedom… Born and raised in China, I never had any problem whatsoever with government regulation (and frankly there is always a way to get around it, like the VPN situation). Why get cynical over the law of another country if its citizens don’t even complain about it? Increasingly people in China realize that the criticism from the West stems purely from the inherent bias (or even hatred) against China rather than from sympathy towards its people. This perhaps explains why Chinese people are becoming increasingly nationalistic and (sometimes blindly) supportive of their government (quite counterproductive, huh?). Criticizing China with the utter disregard of the cultural differences (e.g. the emphasis on the collective/respect for political authority) between China and the West is counterproductive. Enough of political rant that does not belong here. Pretty positive a sweeping ban on VPN is not happening, though. Some reputable VPN services (ExpressVPN for example) have never been interrupted throughout the years.

  34. It started already several months ago. Nowadays the speed of VPN (ExpressVPN) is about 1 to 2 Mb while without VPN the speed is around 40-50 Mbps. I just used Speedtest and found today the speed is between 0.05 and 0.07 Mbps. But without Speedtest I can not open this site at all. You know Lucky that you are blocked since you wrote such bad stories about China Eastern Airlines. Kidding all blogs in the world are blocked by China’s Great Firewall.

  35. “It is interesting that Luck seems has an eye China and post on Chinese issue frequently. As a Chinese I do appreciate it especially for the neutrality. But those posts do attract xenophobia or sinophobia alike.”

    China has no freedom of information and has some of the most repressive laws and regulations concerning information access of any country in the world. I’ve traveled across more of rural China than 99% of Chinese will in their entire lives and seen with my own eyes the horrific problems stemming from decades of repressive laws and regulations designed to stifle information. I do love China and the Chinese people but I don’t love China’s laws that suppress the freedom of information. And it is neither xenophobic or sinophobic to say so: it is a much-needed dose of reality for anyone who naively goes to visit China and thinks he or she can just go ahead and use Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia or any of thousands of other sites that the government deems “harmful to the Chinese people” (which as a stern father it regards the ‘people’ the way a stern father regards a four-year-old).

  36. I will not trust this kind of news unless it actually happens by the mentioned date.

    @Inshanghai Strange, I can access OMAAT just fine.

  37. @Lu Zhao

    You’re dead wrong. It’s not just individual VPNs that they’re blocking. They are blocking all UNAPPROVED VPNs, which means that bureaucratic hoops need to be jumped through and probably only larger corporations will be able to get approved in many instances which leaves small companies likely unapproved and unable to work using a VPN. Companies will leave this trash heap of a country, as it’s going the way of North Korea. China just removed ALL western videos from major Chinese video-hosting websites yesterday. Things are not looking good at all right now for human rights in China, and it is far from a progressive nation.

  38. Actually it can’t stop all VPNs. If you run OpenVPN over TCP on port 443 or 8443, then the traffic is indistinguishable from https and cannot be blocked. You have also to be careful with DNS leakage – something which trips up an awful lot of VPNs. But the good news is that these days technology is always one step ahead of the state 🙂

  39. Gotta love the people posting complaining about China bashers and how happy the people in China are with the current status quo. Meanwhile on the same day Liu Xiaobo the nobel peace prize winning dissident died in Chinese custody. To say people don’t care about political freedom is a joke. They don’t speak out about political freedom because the government will detain them or its a black mark against them in the future. Being fearful of repercussions and therefore not becoming politically active is not the same thing as being content with the status quo. But no of course anyone who questions china’s policies must be anti-chinese right? They couldn’t possibly care about the people themselves.

  40. @Chinese national sez: “If you truly have lived in China and cared enough to interact with the locals (rather than staying in the expat bubble) you would know how much personal freedom people have and how little people give a sh*t about your so-called Western political freedom.”

    I have been to China yearly for the past 12 years and have interacted with locals, including having been to married to one. You are wrong on all counts.

    If you’ve heard of Liu Xiaobo, who just gave his life to protest the lack of person freedom in PRC that you claim to have aplenty, and still believe your own b.s., it is quite likely is that you’re brainwashed…

  41. Lol, you white dudes are really behind the time. In china, we use shadownsocks. VPN? that’s for you guys, and other tech-non-savvy chinese folks.

    When I stay in China for summer and winter (I am a professor), I watch youtube in 1080p using shadowsocks+ICP accelerator+KVM VPS configuration. My online habit is exactly the same as when I am in the States and Canada.

  42. To everyone making accusations of “China-bashing”. Nobody is bashing China. Most of the people posting in English about VPNs in China most likely are expats living in China. Unlike Chinese citizens, expats are here by choice, so they obviously really like China. However, they ARE bashing the CCP. Despite what the CCP has tried to brainwash into the people, the CCP and China are NOT the same thing. China is great. The people are great. The government just really sucks.

    As for those saying that Chinese people don’t care about rights because of cultural differences: that is just what the CCP has brainwashed people to think with “patriotic education” in schools. Chinese people seem to be doing democracy and human rights pretty well in Taiwan.

  43. I am a Chinese and actually I hate such policies. So using ‘aggressive’ to describe Chinese governments is absolutely right. The policy is too ridiculous. I can’t believe that so many people above agree with or partly agree with it. It is hard to understand. Why do you think that our Chinese are so different with the majority of people in the world and then our citizens should not be access to Facebook or YouTube?

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