This is one of those Global Times stories that leaves you scratching your head, raising a topic that is usually considered off-limits, but never going quite far enough to lay blame where it belongs. It seems to put the blame for blocked overseas Web sites in China on Chinese ISPs, who block the sites for economic reasons. Or maybe it’s due to router issues. The reporter, of course, never approaches the third rail, namely that these sites are blocked by the government, no matter what ISP you’re using.
But the fact that they’re writing about this at all is extraordinary.
Web users in a number of major Chinese cities reported difficulties in getting to overseas websites as their access has been seemingly frequently interrupted since early this month.
Overseas websites, including Gmail and Yahoo, became inaccessible as requests to log onto these websites returned error messages, while connections to MSN Messenger were unstable and Apple’s App Store was off-limits, Web users in cities including Beijing and Shenzhen reported since May 6.
This stop-and-start access to sites whose servers are located outside of the Chinese mainland was mostly reported by corporate users and businesses, where demands to visit overseas sites are large.
A number of institutions, including Zhejiang University in Hangzhou and Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, posted notices earlier this month, attributing instability to “restrictions on visits to foreign websites by the Internet service providers – China Unicom and China Telecom.”
….Global Voices Advocacy, a pressure group [?], said the interruption followed the use of “monitoring software on routers that direct Internet traffic within and across China’s borders,” the Guardian reported. It added that the new software appears to be able to detect large amounts of connections being made to overseas Internet locations.
Fang Binxing, president of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, attributed the interruptions to Internet service providers’ economic concerns.
“Service providers have to pay the bill of the international Internet flow for their users. So there is incentive for the companies to discourage users to visit foreign websites,” he said.
So we have some theories, but no answers. Not a single word about censorship, needless to say. The article even mentions that VPNs have been failing lately, but then it leaves you hanging as to why that is. Closing lines:
The [MII] official referred the Global Times to the State Internet Information Office, a newly established department to administer both online publishing and Internet access management.
Calls to the office went unanswered Tuesday. The Internet Surveillance Department of Beijing Public Security Bureau said they were not aware of this matter.
That’s a closer you’d expect to see in the Wall Street Journal, not the Global Times. What is this article actually about? Are the GT journalists really trying to be investigative reporters, stymied by China’s security bureaucracy? How often does a Chinese newspaper say they tried to contact a government agency but got no response? As I said, rather bewildering.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.