On July 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill to prohibit virtual private networks (VPNs) and other technologies that allow Russian citizens to view websites banned by the government. The law has been approved by the Duma (the Russian parliament) and will come into effect on November 1.
Immediately, the news was widely posted on the front page of multiple Chinese websites and attracted great attention among Chinese.
Interestingly (perhaps also sadly), most Chinese websites consciously used titles like “Russia bans VPNs too!” or “Russia follows China to ban VPNs” or “Russian netizens are furious about the ban on VPNs” to strike a chord among Chinese readers.
Chinese people once again feel that the Russian people are indeed their comrades, or to be more correct, their fellow-sufferers of government’s censorship. Even the Russian government’s excuse for the ban sounds extremely familiar to Chinese netizens: the head of the Russian information policy committee claimed that the law was meant to prevent access to “unlawful content” rather than restrict the access of “law-abiding citizens.”
A VPN is a third-party service that routes web traffic through servers in another country or location. For netizens in China, VPNs are the only resort to bypass the Great Firewall (GFW) and get access to the international internet.
Different from China, Russia has no GFW to systematically ban its netizens from the international internet. Many Chinese netizens pointed out the difference and commented sarcastically: “The Russian netizens can still log onto Google, Youtube, Twitter and so on, while we can’t. So we are still No.1.” Others corrected the comment: “No, we remain a tie for first place with North Korea.”
As The Diplomat has followed closely, China has been consistently tightening its grip on the free flow of information on the internet for months. To make matters worse, some large American companies, such as Apple, are following along.