Chinese VPN Ban Wreaks Havoc On Individuals & Businesses Alike

article by Sandra Trentino
June 26, 2019
China began implementing its much-maligned ban on virtual public network (VPN) use on March 31. The move — which the government claims is necessary to protect the public from accessing "dangerous content” online — will only allow the public to use VPN services that have been"sanctioned" by the Chinese government in advance.

However, there is much confusion surrounding not only exactly what the new rules are, but also how they will be implemented. Now, many Chinese individuals and corporations have complained that the uncertainty surrounding the new restrictions is a direct result of government mismanagement of the process.

They are claiming that despite the repeated warnings of severe repercussions for violators of the new policy, government regulators have not been forthcoming with a precise explanation of what is allowed and what is not allowed.

Lack of Transparency Leads to Additional Costs

This lack of transparency is having an immediate and real impact across the Chinese landscape. Although it is widely believed that the government is looking to censor political messaging available via social media, search, and international news outlets, the unclear prohibition not only on content but also on the platforms themselves is problematic.

For example, a business that wishes to use a VPN to remain anonymous while accessing certain platforms for business purposes can no longer be sure of what is permitted. This has forced them to use much more expensive methods, such as international private leased circuits, to anonymize their internet connection.

While huge Chinese multinational corporations can usually afford this new burden, smaller competitors or rising firms usually find it cost prohibitive. This has led to further push back against the ban with that argument that even amongst organizations that remain indifferent to government censorship, the rules create an unfair burden across the different economic strata of Chinese society.

Chinese Authorities Remain Silent

For its part, the Chinese government has shown little remorse or sympathy for those affected by the new ban. Recent political developments have caused the Communist Party, which rules the country unilaterally, to focus on suppressing platforms where political dissent can spread. Party officials have shown little concern for what’s the impact of their censorship methods might be, even on those citizens not looking to use the affected platforms for political purposes.

Outside of China, this obstinate stance has led many analysts to speculate that the ban could have long-term, unintended, and unforeseen economic ramifications for the competitiveness of the Chinese market. This is due not only to potentially increased operating costs, but also capital flight and a lack of access to innovation.

Freedom of Information At Risk?

In addition, the move has drawn criticism from the international community due to its free speech implications. Even when the confusion about enforcement is clarified, the immediate impact of the new rules remains unclear.

Although the Chinese government stressed it believes it has a right to restrict information, that is a position increasingly at odds with what global internet users expect. Given that fact, experts believe that the far-reaching nature of this action could be a test case for how people will react to constraints on their freedom to browse the web freely and without any government oversight.