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Communication & Technology

China blocks Google services for Tiananmen 25th anniversary


Tiananmen Protest Preparation

Tiananmen Protest Preparation

In preparation for the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre (aka. the June 4th Incident), Chinese authorities decided to begin blocking Google. It’s believed that the blockade is tied to this week’s 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre where the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators.

Each year, the Chinese government censors the web in an effort to limit protests against the thwarted uprising. Aside from Google, several internet services were blocked or censored in advance, including social networks and other web communication tools.

Though the Chinese government has not yet confirmed this, countless Chinese users have discovered Google’s services to be inaccessible since the last week of May. In addition, a report from GreatFire.org claimed that the government appeared to have begun targeting Google Inc‘s main search engine and Gmail (among many other services) since at least the last week of May, making them inaccessible to many users in China. The report added that the last time it monitored such a block was in 2012, when it only lasted 12 hours.

It is not clear that the block is a temporary measure around the anniversary or a permanent block. But because the block has lasted for four days, it’s more likely that Google will be severely disrupted and barely usable from now on.

Asked about the disruptions, a Google spokesman said: “We’ve checked extensively and there’s nothing wrong on our end.” And Google’s own transparency report, which shows details about its global traffic, showed lower levels of activity from China starting from about Friday, which could indicate a significant amount of disruption. Other major social media sites – such as Twitter and Facebook and Google’s own Youtube- are already blocked in the country.

Of course, this should come as no surprise, given the way this anniversary is received by Chinese officials. For the ruling Communist Party, the 1989 demonstrations that clogged Tiananmen Square in Beijing and spread to other cities remain taboo, particularly on their 25th anniversary. When June rolls around each year and the Tiananmen Square Massacre is commemorated around the world, including in Hong Kong, China‘s ruling party typically conducts a web crackdown. It’s not uncommon for Chinese censors to block certain comments from being made even on China-based company services, like Weibo, and China also applies pressure to Baidu and other search engines in the country to ensure censorship filters are in place.

And as with previous years, the run-up to the anniversary has been marked by detentions, increased security in Beijing and tighter controls on the Internet. This year, the detainees included prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and Chinese-born Australian artist Guo Jian, a former Chinese soldier who last week gave an interview to the Financial Times about the crackdown.

And as usual, the Chinese government made a statement in which it once again defended its decision to use military force against the pro-democracy demonstrators who gathered in the Square twenty-five years ago. The statement came from Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei during a daily news briefing, in which he said:

The Chinese government long ago reached a conclusion about the political turmoil at the end of the 1980s. In the last three decades and more of reform and opening up, China’s enormous achievements in social and economic development have received worldwide attention. The building of democracy and the rule of law have continued to be perfected. It can be said that the road to socialism with Chinese characteristics which we follow today accords with China’s national condition and the basic interests of the vast majority of China’s people, which is the aspiration of all China’s people.

On the subject of why Google was being targeted, Hong said only that the government “manages the Internet in accordance with the law”, which is consistent with the state’s position with all web-based censorship. When asked about the jailing of dissidents, Hong replied that “In China there are only law breakers — there are no so-called dissidents.” He also stressed once again that all departments of the Chinese government “consistently act in accordance with the law.”

For years now, Google has had a contentious relationship with China. The company had once offered its search services happily to the world’s second largest economy. But after facing off against the government on the issue of censorship, Google decided to move its Chinese search engine to Hong Kong. The move effectively allowed the search company to operate outside the rules and regulations placed upon it by the Chinese government. But as China proved these past few weeks, it still has the ability to block the flow of traffic from Hong Kong into the mainland.

Sources: CNET News – china-blocks-google-services-to-silence-tiananmen-critics, Reuters – China disrupts Google services ahead of Tiananmen anniversary, Reuters – China defends Tiananmen crackdown on eve of 25th anniversary
 
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About storiesbywilliams

Matt Williams is a professional writer and the curator of the Guide to Space at Universe Today. His articles have been featured on Popular Mechanics, Business Insider, Gizmodo, IO9, and HeroX. He is also a science fiction author and Taekwon-Do instructor. He lives with his wife and family on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

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