China is blaming technology used to bypass China’s censorship systems for recent terrorist attacks, suggesting that the government is considering tighter controls on the country’s Internet.
Domestic terrorists from the nation’s western region are circumventing China’s online censors to view blocked videos on terrorism, a top Chinese official said on Thursday.
The official, Zhang Chunxian, made the comment after a group of knife-wielding attackers killed 29 civilians earlier this month at a local train station in Kunming, China. The government has blamed the killings on separatists from Xinjiang, a Chinese autonomous region where ethnic violence has broken out before.
Zhang, who is party secretary of Xinjiang, suggested that virtual private networks (VPNs)—services that allow Chinese Internet users to visit blocked sites—had a role in fueling the violence.
“Right now, 90 percent of Xinjiang’s terrorism is the result of jumping the wall, and following online videos to create terrorism,” he said while speaking with journalists. A video of his comments was later broadcast.
China has long tried to filter out anti-government content, and blocked U.S. sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. But jumping China’s Great Firewall isn’t hard. Internet users willing to pay US$10 or less a month can often buy access to a virtual private network (VPN).
So far, China has yet to clamp down on VPN use, and only rarely blocked access to them. In March 2011, several VPN providers reported service problems in China, at a time when censors were trying to stamp out references to the pro-democracy “Jasmine Revolution” protests in many countries.
Lately, however, the government has been calling for greater control of the Internet. In November, China said it wanted to tighten its grip over local social networking services, citing threats to national stability.
Authorities have also regularly waged campaigns to clean up so-called rumors on Sina-Weibo, a Twitter-like service. Following the knife attack in Kunming, China’s public security bureau said it had arrested 45 people for allegedly spreading false online information about other impending terrorist attacks.