Chinese authorities are intensifying their censorship in response to the recent protests against the state’s draconian “zero-COVID” policies, ushering in the highest “emergency response” level, according to leaked directives.
Two directives from the Cyberspace Administration of China and one from local government authorities, sent to different Chinese platforms, were leaked to a Chinese dissident Twitter account and then translated by the China Digital Times. The directives show the behind-the-scenes decision to order the intensification of censorship as a result of recent protests, along with the close management of public relations. Authorities notified that they were ramping up their efforts to crack down on the ability of the public to circumvent the “Great Firewall of China,” largely through the use of virtual private networks.
“Yesterday, Minister [Niu Yibing, the deputy director of the Office of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission] held a National Cyberspace Administration System management coordination videoconference. Based on the current situation, it was deemed necessary to initiate a Level I Internet Emergency Response, the highest level of content management,” one of the directives read. “Key managers should take a hands-on approach, and strengthen content management. Given the recent high-profile events in various provinces, information about offline disturbances and backflows of overseas information must be rapidly identified, dealt with, and reported.”
It also warned of future dates that may result in a flashpoint in protests.
“Tomorrow, November 30, marks one week since the deaths that occurred on November 24; December 9 is International Anti-Corruption Day; and December 10 is International Human Rights Day,” it read. “Pay careful attention to these and other sensitive dates, maintain strict controls, and strengthen preliminary content audits.”
Another directive gives instructions on how to help crack down on the ability of Chinese citizens to circumvent internet censorship through VPNs and similar software.
“First, e-commerce platforms should continue their concerted efforts to clean up online sales of goods and services used to circumvent the Firewall. These include Firewall-circumvention routers, VPNs, web accelerators, VPS [virtual private servers], overseas Apple accounts, etc.,” read the directive. “Second, thoroughly investigate, clean up and remove all illegal Firewall-circumvention software or tools from app stores and file-hosting services.”
The directive also urged platforms to crack down on the ability to research ways in which to circumvent internet controls.
“Someone affiliated with the Cyberspace Administration of China submitted this. In the near future, tools for bypassing the Great Firewall (GFW) will be more strictly regulated. Also, be alert to some key dates coming up,” it read.
The directives were given after recent protests against China’s “zero-COVID” laws that have strained the economy and the country’s urban populace. The demonstrations were the largest public expressions of dissent since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.