China is notorious for its Great Firewall, the looming regulatory force that continues to censor Chinese netizens. The Great Firewall’s next victim is virtual private networks or VPNs. China recently released a statement that all VPN access will be blocked by February 2018. VPN serves as Chinese netizens’ saving grace from China’s Great Firewall, allowing users to bypass censorship and access content such as international media sources.
These actions are all a part of President Xi Jinping’s effort to promote “internet sovereignty.” In other words, the nation’s control over its Internet without foreign influence.
Many international entities have expressed disapproval of China’s media censorship while others have cooperated with China’s internet regulations. Tech-giant, Apple, has become an unpopular ally to the Chinese cause, removing apps from the Apple Store that assist Chinese citizens in accessing censored content. Following China’s recent VPN statement, Apple quickly removed all major VPN applications on their Chinese app store.
Currently, many VPN providers in China are already legally registered, state-owned enterprises that are commonly used by “universities, businesses, media organizations and expatriates.” Thus, the government’s possible actions following its announcement remain vague.
However, Apple’s response may imply the necessity of retaining international relations through consistent compliance of local laws and regulations. This will be a message that international companies will have to consider when spreading influence to China.
Apple CEO, Tim Cook, explains that, “like we do in other countries we follow the law wherever we do business.” In addition to Apple’s compliance with the ban by removing VPNs and prior removal of other apps such as the New York Times app in the Chinese app store, the company is also opening its first data center in China as part of a billion dollar investment in the province.
As China increases its consumer base, other multinational corporations could decide to follow suit with Apple’s decision to comply with the nation’s demand to ensure a successful partnership with China. The question is whether other companies will pursue the same strategy or resist China’s Great Firewall.