Online traffic is heavily censored in China. The restrictions imposed by the government pertain to both viewing and publishing content on the web.
VPNs are used to bypass restrictions and access banned content on the internet. But are VPNs legal in China? Keep reading to find out more about Chinese internet restrictions and whether or not you can legally bypass them!
What Is the Great Firewall of China?
The Great Firewall (GFW) of China is a protocol that is a combination of internet technologies and legislative actions imposed by the government of the People’s Republic of China. The purpose of this government initiative is to regulate internet traffic and block content from foreign sources.
There are numerous blocked websites in China, due to the fact that the country has some of the strictest internet laws in the world. Foreign information sources, such as The New York Times or Wikipedia, are banned, as well as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Most of the mobile apps that are available internationally are not present in the Chinese app stores. The law also requires that all foreign businesses operating in China conform to the domestic regulations regarding the internet.
Chinese citizens are aware of the existence of the firewall and the fact that VPN in China is illegal. The majority of people have grown accustomed to the restrictions, even though they can’t play online games or freely post on social media. The government’s official stance regarding this censorship system is that it is in place to protect the people from harmful foreign influences from the West and ensure national security.
It is estimated that the government employs at least 50,000 people that work on censoring the content that enters the country and make sure that nothing ‘harmful’ becomes available to the general public. People are not the only ones that suffer at the hands of China’s cyber sovereignty; numerous businesses can’t conduct international operations due to the restrictions, constraining economic growth within the country’s borders. These regulations have caused an increased interest in VPN use in China.
How Does the Great Firewall Work?
Over the years the Great Firewall of China has become more complex and more difficult to bypass. The development of A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) technologies has greatly contributed to the security of the firewall, in addition to the many other measures employed by the government. So, what exactly do the authorities use to impose internet restrictions?
IP Address Blocking
The protocol blocks certain IP addresses so that the device trying to access any of these restricted IP addresses won’t be able to reach the server on the other end.
This is a very simple method, where the algorithm filters selected keywords and phrases, and blocks or filters all URLs containing them. Because of this, many more people are wondering, are VPNs legal?
This method prevents someone from accessing a website by entering its name into their browser. The DNS (Domain Name System) server requests the IP address of the site by the name you entered but the Firewall changes the DNS response, making it inaccessible.
A.I. and Manual Censorship
In the past, all censorship went through the hands of government employees that had the job of monitoring, editing, and removing online content. In more recent years, this has been to a big degree left to A.I. and there’s now an additional layer in China’s block on VPN.
All companies are responsible for the content published on their sites, so if any restricted information is published, they are legally responsible.
There are measures in place to block VPN traffic. So, can you use a VPN in China? It’s difficult because online traffic that is trying to connect to a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is immediately blocked, so users are prevented from accessing banned websites.
Are VPNs Legal in China?
The use of VPNs in China is a grey area. Although VPNs were recently banned by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and using one is considered a crime, there haven’t been any strict punishments, and VPNs are still used.
Using a VPN is the easiest way to breach the Firewall and access banned content on the internet. But technically, this is only legal for companies that have obtained a license to use a VPN in order to conduct their business. The most important incentive for VPN use is to gather information about international events that are afterward used by the government for political purposes.
So, is VPN illegal in China for international enterprises that do business there? The government allows VPNs in such cases since companies claim that having unrestricted access to the internet is a key part of their business. Having access to a VPN allows these companies to securely transfer information.
If the government in China had a strict ban on VPN policy, it would have terrible financial repercussions, which are not in the Chinese interests. That’s why they have strict VPN and cable regulations stating who can use VPNs and for which purposes, meaning that VPNs are legal in China – just not everywhere and not for everyone.
It is interesting to note that the country doesn’t focus too heavily on banning VPN services, but instead focuses on finding individuals that might be using them. There have been some reports that anyone caught using a VPN will face a monetary fine of $145 USD.
Is Using a VPN in China Forbidden for Foreigners?
China does not have a foreigner-friendly policy, and it doesn’t welcome too many visitors. However, the country cannot completely sever all its ties to the outside world, so foreigners enter the country, for work and tourism, and expect to have unrestricted internet access. The problem only arises if they don’t have a previously installed VPN on all the devices they plan on using. Because in China, all the websites for downloading VPN software are blocked and the Chinese app stores don’t offer any apps of this kind.
Many prospective visitors wonder, are VPNs illegal in China for foreigners as well? While there is no specific VPN law pertaining to foreigners, the same laws that apply to Chinese citizens are also valid for all visitors. However, most people that enter China use VPNs without any repercussions. The crucial thing about using VPN while in China is to install the software before entering the county and to choose a good, high-quality VPN service that is able to evade the Firewall.
It’s a good idea to have VPN browser extensions and a VPN mobile app that you can get either from the Android app store or from the Apple store. Having multiple devices with VPN installed on them will provide you with backup and enhanced privacy while you’re surfing the web. So, are VPNs legal in China for foreign visitors? As of 2021, there have been no known fines issued to foreigners for using a VPN, indicating that the VPN ban is not applicable to visitors.
Common “Blocked in China or Not” Questions – Answered
VPNs in China are most commonly used to access social media platforms (Facebook), western news media (American news sites), streaming services (Netflix), communication services (WhatsApp), and even dating apps (Tinder). To make your search easier, we compiled the answers to some of the recurring questions about which sites and services are available in China.
Is YouTube Blocked in China?
YouTube has been blocked in China since 2009. However, with a good VPN service, you can connect to a foreign server and access the site.
Does Discord Work in China?
The Discord platform is on the list of banned internet tools in China, but it is accessible via VPN.
Can I Use Gmail in China?
Gmail and all other Google services are explicitly banned in China. But for those visiting the country and wondering if you can access Gmail in China, the answer is yes. Gmail can be accessed through a VPN if visitors need to check their email. The same rules apply to all email services.
Can You Use Instagram in China?
Like the rest of the social media platforms, Instagram is blocked in China and has been since 2014. Only through a limited number of VPNs can you gain access to the network and be able to connect with your followers.
Are VPNs Legal in China?
The official stance of the Chinese government is that the use of VPNs is prohibited except in strictly defined cases. However, many foreigners and citizens, are using VPNs without any consequences, indicating that the government allows this practice to go unpunished. Still, if you decide to use one, you need to know how to do it and what to expect.