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How extensive is the official crackdown on Chinese internet access?

Jonathan Landreth, managing editor of ChinaFile, the Asia Society's online magazine, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the Chinese crackdown on the country's access to the Internet this week.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Chinese authorities launched a crackdown this week on Internet use.

    For more about how extensive it is and what it means, we are joined now by Jonathan Landreth. He is managing editor of China File, The Asia Society's online magazine.

    So before we get to the great firewall, what does the average Chinese citizen or somebody living in China have access to on the Internet?

  • JONATHAN LANDRETH, CHINA FILE:

    The Internet in China, which is viewed by 684 million people, is a wide web of information.

    However, if one wants to access web sites such as The New York Times or Facebook or Twitter, for example, one has to use a digital tool to leap over that great firewall. A digital barrier constructed by the censors.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So what happened in the past week? Those tools– what happened to those tools?

  • JONATHAN LANDRETH:

    Those tools — if you or I was sitting in Beijing or Shanghai and wanted to check our Facebook account, we would have to use a software called a virtual private network, which enables us to basically prop a ladder up against the great firewall and scale over to get out to the free Internet.

    Those tools were scrambled in the last week, more so than they have been before.

    When I lived in China for eight years, sometimes one VPN, as they're called, wouldn't work.

    So we'd switch to another one. Now, they're more scrambled than they have ever been before.

    So it's tougher for people to post to Instagram accounts, for academics to reach research institutes out in the West, for people to follow Hollywood gossip or gossip in the South Korean pop scene.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So what are the reasons that the Chinese government still imposes these? Why do they make it more difficult?

  • JONATHAN LANDRETH:

    Over the last 18 months or so, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and his Internet czar, a man called Lu Wei, the Chinese government has tightened control of the Internet, what can be seen from within the great firewall.

    That tightening happens to coincide with a widespread crackdown on official corruption.

    There is a great deal of reporting that goes on from within China by news organizations based outside of China. So it's no accident that sites of The New York Times and the BBC, for instance, are now verboten within the country.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So besides the sort of censorship and kind of ideological reason, is there an economic advantage?

    Because I also read somewhere that certain businesses weren't affected versus normal consumers.

  • JONATHAN LANDRETH:

    It's true that, for instance, smartphone manufacturers from this country and elsewhere are desperate to get into the Chinese market.

    Some of the services and apps that are used on those smartphones require free and open Internet access.

    There are, of course, local Chinese competitors whose smartphone devices would like very much to compete with the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, et cetera.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So is there an advantage then?

    Are you essentially creating the firewall in part to protect Chinese business from international competition?

  • JONATHAN LANDRETH:

    There is a phrase being bandied about right now, and it's to describe what the Chinese government is doing.

    And that is to promote Internet sovereignty, or cyber sovereignty. Basically, to control all information and business within the great firewall.

    And prevent the influence of Western thought and, yes, indeed, business.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Jonathan Landreth from China File, the Asia Society's online magazine, thanks so much for joining us.

  • JONATHAN LANDRETH:

    Thank you.

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