Chinese President Xi Jinping. Credit: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

Backing up the US worries and ban on Huawei from selling in the US, comes the disturbing news that China is forcing international companies to use State authorized VPN’s. Until recently most global companies with offices in China would use personalized VPN’s that would allow them to use the internet bypassing China’s censorship. China censors and controls the internet rigidly, forbidding access to global social media sites including Facebook, Google, YouTube and many more non-Chinese services. The Chinese call this state controlled access to information the “Great Firewall.”

The State approved hardware is also another way to increase tariffs on foreign companies, where such packages cost tens of thousands of dollars per month. This is not the real issue; the real issue is the fact that the State approved VPN’s are an open door for Chinese officials and perhaps unofficial to gain access to the foreign company’s data streams as well as data banks, basically allowing them to be authorized state hackers. This is one of the reasons that Google does not operate in China.

The recent changes in intensity from Beijing is causing concern since until recently it was an accepted challenge for most companies being offered as a suggestion. Now Beijing is making it mandatory, explicitly telling everyone that they must use the state approved VPNs only.

Associate Director of Consultancy Control Risks in Shanghai, Carl Ramsey told reporters that “The Xi administration has prioritized control over all information flows within China, and in and out of its borders. In times of ultimate need, such as a global conflict or a brewing mass movement at home, they want to be able to shut down the data border.”

Starting January 2018, Beijing demands that all Chinese telecom companies close all dedicated lines including VPN’s used to conduct cross-border business activities by March 31st, 2108. Due to previous “attacks” on privacy, Apple removed all its VPNs from its Chinese app store, while most of the multinational corporations told the press that their private VPNs are now blocked, forcing them to either use the state VPN’s while finding a solution to their data privacy.

One sticky area is international relations between governments; if commercial companies thought they had problems, two EU embassies found that their VPN’s were blocked too. However, according to the Vienna convention Embassies remain sovereign, and China is violating international accords when blocking communicating lines.

Bottom line, China is starting to show its real face after a few years of capitalization The government under Xi is now clamping down on the flow of information and intends to “invade” and “conquer” cyberspace within its borders.

FAQ
1. What’s a VPN?
Virtual Private Network or VPN is a third-party service that routes web traffic through servers in another country or location to where a person physically is. VPN’s are used to change the “location” of the surfer to a virtual one rather than their actual physical position.

2. Why do people use VPNs?
Since China blocks internet content, using a VPN allows access to the content. The visited site will check the IP address and compare it to accessible IP addresses or inaccessible ones. With a VPN you circumvent this blockage. Since China blocks a lot of content, VPN’s are big business in China.

3. What is the Great Firewall?
The Great Firewall is the name given to the Chinese government’s control of Internet-based information. It effectively blocks Chinese from accessing many western sites.

4. Why did China tolerate VPNs in the past?
China has been going through a steady rate of controlled commercialism and capitalism. However, President Xi and some hardliners have shown concern for a “free market” to expand out of control and are now clamping down.

5. What’s the new approach?
VPN’s allows people to bypass IP blockages. President Xi of China is slowly solidifying his hold on the country, making him a “dictator” similar to Kim Jong Un, and as such, he is starting to show signs of dictatorship behavior, including blocking VPN access.

6. How will this impact individuals and multinationals?
This recent mandatory action, forcing everyone to use a state VPN will create three scenarios; 1) Compliance, 2) development of new technology to replace the old VPN, and 3)emigration, where companies will leave China in fear of their data integrity.