As you are kicking back, finishing off the last of the festive food, and browsing through Facebook or Netflix, spare a thought for those living in the one-party Communist states of Vietnam and China, where the online censorship situation continues to deteriorate.
Vietnam’s new cyber-warfare army: Force 47
First to Vietnam, where the regime has recently revealed that it has hired an enormous 10,000 people to work in a new cyber warfare unit, known as Force 47. Its main aim is to battle “wrong” views being spread online.
The announcement came in a speech on Christmas Day given by Nguyen Trong Nghia, a senior lieutenant-general in the Vietnam Communist Party’s People’s Army. According to state-run media outlets, Lt Gen Nguyen claimed that enemies of the Communist party were currently able to “create chaos” online.
As a result, it claimed it was necessary that “in every hour, minute, and second we must be ready to fight proactively against the wrong views.” The new “Force 47” has already been compared to the so-called 50-cent army employed by the Communist regime in neighbouring China, who are paid 50 cents for every website they highlight that breaches regulations.
It seems the latest crackdown on internet freedoms have already begun to have an effect. In November, a blogger called Nguyen Van Hoa received a seven-year jail sentence for the crime of “spreading anti-state propaganda”. His crime was to write about a chemical spill in central Vietnam by a Taiwanese-owned factory.
He is not the only blogger or online activist to have faced reprisals as a result of his online writings and in the current climate, it is a brave Vietnamese person who would freely criticise the Communist regime online without the protection of a VPN.
China admits blocking 13,000 websites in 3 years
Meanwhile, the online crackdown in neighbouring China, including a ban on VPNs has been widely reported. But over Christmas, the state-controlled Xinhua news agency has proudly reported that the Communist regime there has shut down no fewer than 13,000 websites since 2015.
In addition to this shocking figure, they have also forced the removal of an astonishing 10 million online accounts from various different Chinese-owned websites. No details were given on which sites this referred to, but the most likely victims were social media accounts on Chinese platforms like WeChat and Weibo.
If that isn’t sinister enough, it was also claimed that the regimes Cyberspace Administration of China has “summoned more than 2,200 websites operators for talks during the same period.” Such talks are unlikely to be a free and open sharing of views, but rather a warning of the consequences website will face if they go against party demands.
The Xinhua agency report stated that “Internet security concerns the party’s long-term hold on power, the country’s long-term peace and stability, socio-economic development and the people’s personal interests.”
The first part of this statement is certainly true. All of the recent online crackdowns in China are determined by what the Communist regime deems is the best way to keep the Communist Party, and particularly current leader Xi Jinping, in power.
The report went on to claim that more than 90% of people they surveyed supported the crackdown. Even if this “survey” is genuine, no sensible Chinese citizen is ever likely to criticise the regime to its own news agency.
VPNs still vital in Communist regimes
Single-party Communist regimes need complete control of their populations to maintain their grip on power. It is therefore little wonder that those in control of Vietnam and China are doing everything to control the internet too.
But it is vital that individual people in these countries can continue to have a voice and have access to overseas internet content that can right the lies of state propaganda in the countries. Which is why VPNs are so important in China and Vietnam and will continue to be so in 2018.