Several VPN providers have reported that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has stepped up efforts to try and block access to their service in China.
It was reported today that a number of VPNs experienced blocks to their service over the weekend. This is nothing new as China is always attempting to block access to VPNs, which can be used by Chinese citizens to get around the CCPs censorship regime, known as the Great Firewall, and access the internet without restrictions.
But this time, when VPN providers deployed their counter-measures against CCP blocks, they found the response to be significantly faster than usual.
The CCP trying something new
Usually, CCPs efforts to block VPNs are like a game of cat and mouse. The CCP blocks access to certain VPN servers. Once that provider detects a block, they use a technique to get around it. These techniques vary depending on which provider you are using.
Their service will then work as normal for a few days until the CCP tries again and the whole process is repeated.
But as Sunday Yokubaitis, the chief executive of Golden Frog, the company behind VyprVPN service, told the Reuters news agency, this weekend, for the first time, things didn’t play out that way.
“This time, the Chinese government seemed to have staff on the ground monitoring our response in real time and deploying additional blocks,” he explained.
This inevitably meant that VyprVPN had to work much harder to keep their service working behind the Great Firewall. However, Yokubaitis was at pains to stress that VyprVPN remains functional in China, something we can confirm in our testing.
It was not just VyprVPN which seems to have been targeted. ExpressVPN, our editor’s choice for the best VPN around, also suffered more aggressive attempts to block access to its service in China.
They were far calmer about the change in the CCPs attempts to block their service though, with a spokesperson telling Reuters, “censors regularly change their blocking techniques”. ExpressVPN also remains fully functional in China despite the best efforts of the CCP.
Why is China targeting VPNs again now?
If the ExpressVPN line is to be believed, then there is no real cause for the CCP to be stepping up their war on VPNs now. It is just a new technique which they have implemented and which had a temporary effect but was quickly dealt with by those VPNs still accessible in China.
However, some people suspect there may be something to read into the timing. The CCP has a long track record of targeting VPNs and other online sites they disapprove of in the run-up to major events.
There are two such events taking place in China in the near future. The first is a massive trade fair being held in Shanghai next week. This is supposed to calm investors in China about the Communist regimes trade practices and promote overseas investment.
By blocking VPNs now, it is possible that the CCP may be hoping to stop any potential disruption that could be caused to this event.
There is also the CCP’s flagship online conference, the World Internet Conference, taking place soon in the eastern town of Wuzhen.
This is the event where China invites the great and the good of the tech world to China before preaching to them about the benefits of their online censorship and surveillance regime and their vision for online sovereignty, which would permit other countries to place similar restrictions on their people.
However, when China hosts international events of this type it tends to loosen the grip of the Great Firewall rather than tighten it, so delegates do not experience the same level of restriction as regular Chinese citizens.
VPNs remain accessible in China and are just as vital as ever
The most important point to stress is that, despite the best efforts of the CCP, VPN services are still broadly accessible in China. Not all providers can get behind the Great Firewall, but a number of top quality ones can and you can find our pick of the best of them here.
For anyone living or working in China, or even visiting, a VPN remains an essential tool.
If you want to access any of the thousands of websites which are blocked there, you will need a VPN. If you want to stop the CCP monitoring everything you do online, you need a VPN. And if you want to post what you like online without fear of reprisals, you need a VPN.
A basic rule of online safety in Communist China is, if you don’t have a VPN, don’t do anything online unless it is praising the Chinese Communist Party.