For one hour on Thursday, internet users in Beijing, Shanghai and others parts of China were not able to access any foreign websites. Users in Hong Kong, which is part of China but not subject to its web censorship — such as the “Great Firewall” that blocks users in China from accessing a number of sites in other countries — were also unable to reach any sites on the Chinese mainland. Users in countries around the world also reported the same.
A technical failure, said some, suggesting that earthquakes registering 8.6 on the Richter scale in Indonesia had disrupted an underseas cable. David Wolf of Wolf Group Asia, which advises internet companies, said that his “gut feeling” was that “it was a software upgrade.”
But, says the Guardian, the company Data Centre for China Internet posted that
“Latest news: most foreign websites can’t be accessed. Analysis: for commonly known reasons, a large number of foreign URLs are blocked. It is possible that the great firewall is undergoing some readjustment, mistakenly adding many foreign websites to the blocking list. The details are unclear.”
Others raised the specter of more censorship:
Li Kaifu, the former boss of Microsoft and then Google in China, told his 12 million microblog followers: “All foreign websites are inaccessible!” adding emoticons to show disappointment, surprise and curiosity.
Another microblogger wrote: “The Chinese nation built a new Great Wall.”
On Thursday, China’s official Xinhua news agency announced that since March, China has closed 42 websites and deleted more than 210,000 online posts. As Agence France-Presse observes, Chinese authorities seem to be make a push to “censor sensitive information amid fears of political instability ahead of a generational transfer of power due to take place later this year.”
Dissident artist Ai WeiWei, who was detained for 81 days in 2011 during a government crackdown on dissent following the Arab Spring protests, had attempted to critique China’s surveillance of him by setting up a webcam in his home and streaming the images online via “WeiWeiCam.” After two days he took the site down, saying that officials had objected to it. Though officially banned him from speaking to the media, Ai has continued to post on his Twitter account. He is now suing local Beijing tax authorities, charging them with acting illegally by limiting his access to his company’s financial records and to the employees monitoring them.
Chinese political circles have been in turmoil for the past month since populist politician Bo Xilai was removed as party secretary of Chongqing last month; he had been considered a rising star and top contender for a seat on China’s highest political party. Last week, Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was charged with the November death of 41-year-old British businessman Neil Heywood. Neither Bo nor his wife have been heard from in the past month and Heywood’s widow, Wang Lulu, a Chinese citizen, has been ordered by Chinese police not to speak to foreign media. According to an announcement from Chinese state media on Tuesday, Gu and a staff member of the family household have been detained and are “highly suspected” of murdering Heywood over what is described as a conflict over “economic interests.”
Some sort of censorship in discussing Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai is apparently going on, as people in Beijing have not been able to send or receive text messages using the Chinese characters for their names. The Telegraph reports that their son, Bo Guagua, was “slipped out of his luxury flat” near Harvard University, where he is a graduate student, on Thursday night, in a “pre-arranged pick-up by law-enforcement officers.”
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