Shocking facts about how China controls its Internet

There’s been loud protest from China following the ban of 59 Chinese apps by India which has indubitably caused a dent in its economy.

However, this retaliation by India to the border standoff issue with China, which is also an effort towards encouraging the ‘Make In India’ initiative and to keep Indian users’ data secure, is a drop in the ocean as compared to the array of options that China has made unavailable within its boundaries by blatantly censoring them. All in the pursuit of being self-reliant.

It can also be argued that China is so distrusting of the rest of the world that, in the name of national security and self-reliance, it ensures retaining operational power within the country by not allowing an outsider to establish any business which is a serious competitor to its own.

For instance, while the rest of the developed and developing world has access to technology platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube (all originating in the United States), in China they are banned in order to give their own websites the opportunity to flourish.

Many believe that in a highly connected world, India should not take the chance of disconnecting from Chinese technology and other products as they are considered highly advanced. But banning Chinese apps is the first step towards being self-reliant and allowing ‘desi’ talent and capabilities to grow.

After all, if China leveraged its economy by placing curbs on anything foreign and grew to be a formidable competitor among super powers, there is nothing that stops India from doing the same.

China places draconian curbs on not just economic liberty within its territory to foreign players, but literally censors freedom of expression in every field to external parties and sometimes also on its own citizens.

The Communist Party of China (CPC), which is the ruling party, implements or mandates this censorship mainly for political reasons, but also to maintain its control over the populace. CPC asserts that it has the legal right to control the Internet's content within their territory and that their censorship rules do not infringe on the citizen's right to freedom of speech.

Since Xi Jinping became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China in 2012, censorship has been significantly ramped up.

The government maintains censorship over all media capable of reaching a wide audience. This includes television, print media, radio, film, theatre, text messaging, instant messaging, video games, literature, and the Internet. Chinese officials, however, have access to uncensored information via an internal document system.

While the People’s Republic of China exercises censorship in a variety of fields including historical, political, moral, cultural, religious, economic, geographical, military and media, here’s a closer look at specifically the extent of control it exercises over the Internet in China:

~ Internet censorship in the People's Republic of China (PRC) affects both publishing and viewing online material.

~ As of 2019 more than 60 online restrictions had been created by the Government of China and implemented by provincial branches of state-owned ISPs, companies and organisations.

~ China's Internet censorship is more extensive and advanced than that in any other country in the world.

~ The Chinese government blocks website content and monitors individuals' Internet access.

~ As required by the Chinese government, major Internet platforms and messaging services in China established elaborate self-censorship mechanisms. Some have hired teams of thousands to police content and invested in powerful artificial intelligence algorithms

~ Many controversial events are censored from news coverage, preventing many Chinese citizens from knowing about the actions of their government. Such measures inspired the policy's nickname, the ‘Great Firewall of China’.

~ Methods used to block websites and pages include DNS spoofing, blocking access to IP addresses, analysing and filtering URLs, packet inspection, and resetting connections.

~ China has ‘the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world’ and Reporters Without Borders stated in 2010 and 2012 that ‘China is the world's biggest prison for netizens’.

~ Commonly alleged user offences include communicating with groups abroad, signing online petitions, and calling for government reform.

~ The government has escalated its efforts to neutralise coverage and commentary that is critical of the regime after a series of large anti-pollution and anti-corruption protests. Many of these protests as well as ethnic riots were organised or publicised using instant messaging services, chat rooms, and text messages.

~ China's dreaded Internet police force was reported by state media to be 2 million strong in 2013. Around 30,000–50,000 Internet police have been employed by the Chinese government to enforce internet laws. The internet police have now gained power as the Communist Party has worked to grasp greater control over the thoughts, words, and even memories of China’s 800 million web users.

~ Chinese businesses such as Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba, which are some of the world's largest Internet enterprises, benefited from the way China restricted international rivals in the market.

~ The white paper, released in June 2010, called the Internet ‘a crystallisation of human wisdom’. But in the document, the government lays out some of the reasons why its citizens cannot gain access to all of that wisdom. It adds that foreign individuals and firms can use the internet in China, but they must abide by the country's laws

~ Internet censorship in China has been called a panopticon that encourages self-censorship through the perception that users are being watched. The enforcement (or threat of enforcement) of censorship creates a chilling effect where individuals and businesses willingly censor their own communications to avoid legal and economic repercussions. ISPs and other service providers are legally responsible for customers' conduct.

~ Some hotels in China advise Internet users to obey local Chinese Internet access rules by leaving a list of Internet rules and guidelines near the computers. These rules, among other things, forbid linking to politically unacceptable messages and inform Internet users that if they do, they will have to face legal consequences.

~ According to a Harvard study, at least 18,000 websites are blocked from within mainland China, including 12 out of the Top 100 Global Websites.

~ The Chinese-sponsored news agency, Xinhua, stated that censorship targets only ‘superstitious, pornographic, violence-related, gambling and other harmful information’. This appears to be questionable, as the e-mail provider Gmail is blocked, and it cannot be said to fall into any of these categories.

~ Foreign media websites such as Yahoo Hong Kong and the Voice of America are occasionally blocked while as of 2014 the New York Times, the BBC, and Bloomberg News are indefinitely blocked.

~ However, Chinese censors have been relatively reluctant to block websites where there might be significant economic consequences. For example, a block of GitHub was reversed after widespread complaints from the Chinese software developer community.

~ In November 2013 after the Chinese services of Reuters and the Wall Street Journal were blocked, greatfire.org mirrored the Reuters website to an Amazon.com domain in such a way that it could not be shut down without shutting off domestic access to all of Amazon's cloud storage service

~ In 2014, it was discovered that the most consistently blocked international news organisations in China include BloombergNew York TimesSouth China Morning PostWall Street Journal, Facebook, and Twitter.

~ Social websites like Gmail, Google, YouTube, Facebook and InstaGram are permanently blocked.

~ Among search engines, too there are several restrictions and blocks. These Chinese search engines include both international ones (for example, yahoo.com.cn, Bing, and (formerly) Google China, and AltaVista) as well as domestic ones (for example, Soso, 360 Search and Baidu). Attempting to search for censored keywords in these Chinese search engines will yield few or no results.

~ Social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter were blocked, presumably because of containing social or political commentary. Another reason suggested for the block is that activists can utilise them to organise themselves.

~ Since May 2015, Chinese Wikipedia has been blocked in mainland China. This was done after Wikipedia started to use HTTPS encryption which made selective censorship more difficult.

~ Foreign content providers such as Yahoo!, AOL, and Skype must abide by Chinese government wishes, including having internal content monitors, in order to be able to operate within mainland China. 

~ The Chinese version of MySpace, launched in April 2007, has many censorship-related differences from other international versions of the service. Discussion forums on topics such as religion and politics are absent and a filtering system that prevents the posting of content about politically sensitive topics has been added.

~ China's crackdown on VPN portals has brought business to state-approved telecom companies.

~ Most recently, Reporters without Borders has accused that China's policies prevented an earlier warning about the COVID-19 pandemic. At least one doctor suspected as early as 25 December 2019 that an outbreak was occurring, but arguably may have been deterred from informing the media due to harsh punishment for whistleblowers. During the pandemic, academic research concerning the origins of the virus was censored.

~ Chinese equivalents of US internet services are as listed below:

Some media have suggested that China's Internet censorship of foreign websites may be a means of cornering mainland Chinese users to rely on China's own e-commerce industry, thus insulating their economy from the dominance of international corporations.

However, the Chinese model of self-reliance through strict censorship of the Internet is oppressive and goes against the very grain of the freedom of the Press. Such harsh methods by any government are not acceptable in the free world and the progress made by it.

India’s approach on the other hand towards self-reliance is more empathetic and all inclusive albeit a calculated move.

Do you still believe India should not disconnect from Chinese technology and services? Share your views below...

Sources: Wikipedia, Yahoo, Agencies

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