It looks like Beijing has finally grown tired of journalists like Epoch Times' Jennifer Zeng circulating shocking videos depicting the true depth of the crisis on the ground in China - and the government's almost unbelievably heavy handed response.
For an example, see this video which Zeng tweeted yesterday: It's relatively mild by outbreak standards.
During #CoronavirusOutbreak, #CCP gives you very detailed instructions including whether you should sleep together with your spouse...#COVID2019 #Coronavirus #CoronavirusOutbreak #coronaviruschina— 曾錚 Jennifer Zeng (@jenniferatntd) February 16, 2020
Click here for more: https://t.co/fSwmxEsPYp pic.twitter.com/AY7Uk837Xp
Weeks after Beijing ended its brief experiment with Internet "transparency" in the name of disseminating accurate info about the outbreak, the Financial Times reports that Beijing is once again trying to restrict its citizens' access to the uncensored global internet.
China’s most popular VPN services, which allow foreign businesses and locals to circumvent internet censorship, have faced an avalanche of state-backed attacks in recent weeks, which is why many Chinese are finding it difficult to access sites like Google.
Beijing's "Great Firewall" typically automatically restricts VPN usage during "politically sensitive" periods like the anniversary of the "June 4th Incident." And right on schedule, VPN provides have reported "an uptick of restrictions" in recent weeks.
"We are aware of a new escalation in blocks in China, and our team is working around the clock to address the impact on connectivity," according to ExpressVPN, which published a notice on its website Monday.
Following the death of whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang, a frustrated Chinese public demanded the government ease restrictions on speech. For a brief moment, the outpouring of frustration and rage directed at the Communist Party and its thuggish local enforcers threatened to inspire a Hong Kong-style protest movement, until a few well-placed scapegoatings helped the Politburo redirect public scorn at hapless local officials.
First hand reports like this one have become increasingly rare in the Western press now that Beijing has restricted access for most western media organizations while flooding the region with 300 "journalists" dedicated to propagating the official narrative.
Still, millions of Chinese are finding workarounds: Daily traffic to GreatFire’s FreeBrowser.org, a website that allows Chinese users to read foreign news websites, has roughly doubled since Jan. 25, two days after the great lockdown of Wuhan began.
According to GreatFire's Circumvention Central, the stability of Astrill, another big VPN service used in China, tumbled to a four-year low in January, another sign that Beijing has been increasing the pressure on VPNs.
The number of people testing their VPNs using Circumvention Central has also increased in the last month, usually a sign that VPN users are experiencing problems. Astrill did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Of course, this is hardly the first time that China has cracked down on the use of unauthorized VPNs. Crackdowns were reported throughout the course of 2018 and 2017, according to ZDNet. Back in 2018, a crackdown crested with the removal of all VPN apps from Apple's China App store that summer, while Beijing has ordered state-owned ISPs to "block" all VPN-related activity.
Fortunately, in this tech savvy age, motivated people can typically find a way around these restrictions. But at the same time, there are millions of Chinese who are already too brainwashed by the propaganda to care.