Back in January 2017, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the People's Republic of China (MIIT) announced plans to crack down on unauthorised 'special communication lines', including VPNs. Since then, Apple's gone on to remove 674 VPNs from its Mainland China app store at the behest of the Government, while various individuals have been also jailed for selling unsanctioned VPN software, the most recent back in December
On January 30 2018, MIIT chief engineer Zhang Feng announced that starting from March 31, all unlicensed VPN operators will be blocked in China. Specifically, only VPN operators issued with a telecommunications business license, such as state-run telecom giants China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, will be allowed to operate once the new regulations kick in.
'We want to regulate VPNs which unlawfully conduct cross-border operational activities,' Zhang told reporters. He further added, 'Any foreign companies that want to set up a cross-border operation
for private use will need to set up a dedicated line for that purpose. They will be able to lease such a line or network legally from the telecommunications import and export bureau. This shouldn’t affect their
normal operations much at all.'
While it's true that VPN operators are still allowed in China – provided they're officially licensed by the Government – providers can't attain that licensing unless they comply with government regulations. And those government regulations include banning access to content restricted by the Great Firewall, nullifying the purpose of overseas VPNs.
As Radio Free Asia reported,
approved providers China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom have
already been ordered to ensure that their 1.3 billion subscribers aren't
able to use VPNs to access banned content. Despite this move,
Zhang's statement seeks to play down the severity of China's efforts,
pointing out that anyone who wants to operate a VPN can still do so
by leasing state-approved services.
At this point, what this ban actually means for personal VPNs isn't
entirely clear, with previous discussions of VPN crackdowns primarily
centred around the use of business VPNs. In the meantime, we'll
certainly be using a certain search engine to find other alternatives.