Chinese President, Xi Jinping, recently reaffirmed that China supports free market competition and that his country wants to open its markets further to foreign investors.
However, some aspects of life inside the nation are becoming less and less free today, especially in the digital communications area.
On June 1, 2017, Chinese internet regulators launched new cybersecurity laws, curtailing what the nation's more than 750 million internet users can or cannot do.
In the past, Beijing had shut down access to Facebook and Google. And, the new laws introduced this year have been an extension of this trend, according to experts.
The government recently cracked down on top video streaming websites and doubled their crackdown on virtual private networks (VPNs). Foreign TV shows on online platforms were removed, and users were asked to use their real name when registering on online forums. Of course, the American government has implemented heavy-handed “counter-terrorism” measures recently too, but China’s moves are particularly aggressive.
And, according to the experts, these limitations are either here to stay or even more likely grow.
According to Xinhua (Beijing's state news agency), these laws are there to battle against the increasing threats from hacking and cyberterrorism.
However, these harsh security measures could well alienate China’s community of foreign businessmen, as well as domestic Chinese who rely on connections to the outside world to complete their work.
Foreign companies have requested more time and clarity from the government to implement these rules, but so far the internet regulators in China have only managed to postpone the date for these laws.
These laws won't be implemented until sometime later this year, according to The New York Times.
In many ways, China’s security concerns are legitimate. There's rampant software piracy in China, and in early 2017 the nation proved itself particularly vulnerable to the WannaCry attacks. More than 300,000 institutions, including universities, were attacked with this malware.
But critics say there's more to China’s recent security measures than a concern about piracy and malware.
They think it does far than just secure the internet - it gives the government more control over the operations of the internet-based companies running in the nation and ordinary citizens are getting caught up in Beijing’s ever-expanding web of surveilance.
Internet users in China have long relied on circumvention tools like VPNs to access websites blocked by censors in China.
For example, Lina, a 23-year medical student from Beijing, relies on VPNs to bypass China's notorious "Great Firewall" and connect with the rest of the world. This software offers privacy to users by hiding internet browsing activities from ISPs.
Lina uses VPNs to access YouTube and hundreds of other websites that are related to her coursework.
With these security measures in place, Lina feels like China is retreating to its insular past.
The authorities have been implementing two types of restrictions.
First are the publicly announced security measures. And the second is the kind aimed at creating a reliable online environment, especially during significant events such as the Communist Party Congress.
Companies can themselves restrict their users from doing specific things online before important national occasions, such as preventing their users from accessing certain videos or not letting them change their profile pictures.
According to experts, these private security measures are implemented to ensure that company's users do not do anything disruptive during the Congress, or any other national occasions. As soon as the event is over, these restrictions will be lifted.
But, other restrictions, such as the crackdown on by-passing tools such as VPNs are likely to stay.
According to the Wall Street Journal, on top of all these external controls, the Chinese government is also opting to invest in some of China's largest internet companies. Moves like this virtually ensure both profits and a greater control over information flows by Beijing, even if it comes at the expense at the Average Zhou.
Michael Michelini is host of the GlobalFromAsia.com podcast, an online radio show to help business owners grow their companies in Asia and around the world.
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