BEIJING — When Yi Ran is working on new designs for his Yinshen Clothing company, he often turns to Google to search for pictures to use as inspiration. “The results are more complete and objective than Chinese search services,” the 30-year-old from Guangzhou said.
But for the past two weeks, when Yi has tried to call up the U.S. search engine, it’s been unavailable — as have a wide variety of other Google services, including Gmail, Google Books, Google Scholar and even country-specific search pages like Google.de, the company’s German home page.
Chinese authorities have given no explanation for the disruption, which began about five days before the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters that culminated June 4, 1989, at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Certain Google services such as YouTube have been totally unavailable in China for years, and politically sensitive periods like the Tiananmen anniversary often bring intensified, if temporary, censorship of many foreign news websites and Internet search terms.
But experts said the current broad-based and prolonged disruption of Google offerings seems to be an escalated — and possibly long-term — crackdown on the Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet giant.
“It would be wrong to say this is a partial block. It is an attempt to fully block Google and all of its properties,” said a founder of GreatFire.org, a well-known website that has been monitoring China’s Internet censorship program since 2011. The founder said via phone that the site’s administrators do not disclose their names publicly because of the sensitive nature of the content on their site. He would not reveal his real name, apparently fearing retribution.
So far, Google is taking a low-key approach. Spokesman Matt Kallman said the company had “checked extensively and there are no technical problems on our side” but refused to comment further. According to Google’s Transparency Report, an ongoing update on worldwide service disruptions to the company’s products, the slowdown in traffic from China began May 31.
Tensions between Beijing and Washington over cybersecurity have been escalating in recent weeks. Last month, the U.S. Justice Department formally charged five Chinese military officers with hacking into American companies and stealing trade secrets; China then said it would implement a security review on imported technology equipment.
Earlier this month, the state-run newspaper China Daily ran a story warning that companies like Google and Apple could pose a threat to Chinese users because of their cooperation with U.S. government surveillance activities. Those charges mirror warnings by American officials dating back several years that Chinese businesses, including Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp., have deep, suspicious ties with China’s government.
“We can only surmise that the step-up in blocking is linked to the increase in rhetoric and threats of retaliation sparked by the (FBI) ‘wanted’ posters with (People’s Liberation Army) officers, plus the smoldering resentment from the (Edward) Snowden disclosures,” said Duncan Clark, chairman of BDA, a Beijing investment consultant firm.
“All of this is emboldening the nationalist and protectionist camp, and weakening the voices of more pragmatic actors” such as corporate customers, consumers and those concerned about trade frictions, he added. Continue reading…