Access to Google’s Gmail service has been severely disrupted in mainland China over the past week according to reports, although local media say the problem is down to Google and not China’s ‘Great Firewall’.
The disruption comes amid months of disruption to the popular email service, in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square on 4 June, 1989.
According to GreatFire.org, a China-based freedom of speech group, China’s ‘Great Firewall’ began ‘completely blocking’ Gmail on Friday 26 December.
Since last June, Chinese users have not been able to access Gmail via its traditional web interface, but have had to use email protocols such as IMAP, SMTP and POP3 to access the service. But now it reported that the use of these protocols to access Gmail have also been closed down.
“On December 26, GFW started to block large numbers of IP addresses used by Gmail,” said GreatFire.org. “These IP addresses are used by IMAP/SMTP/POP3. Chinese users now have no way of accessing Gmail behind the GFW. Before, they could still send or receive emails via email clients even though Gmail’s web interface was not accessible.”
But now Chinese state-controlled media are reporting that it is Google’s unwillingness to obey Chinese law which is to blame for the shutdown.
“China welcomes the company to do business on the prerequisite that it obeys Chinese law; however Google values more its reluctance to be restricted by Chinese law, resulting in conflict,” the Global Times was quoted by the Guardian as saying in an editorial.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying reportedly she was not aware of the blocking of the service when asked about the issue at a press conference on Monday.
“I think the government is just trying to further eliminate Google’s presence in China and even weaken its market overseas,” Reuters quoted a member of GreatFire.org, who uses a pseudonym as saying.
The Gmail block means that Chinese users will now have to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which allows unhindered access to blocked sites and services.
In 2010 Google accused Chinese-based hackers of carrying out attacks on the Gmail accounts of human rights activists.
That triggered a huge political row between America and China, and resulted in Google effectively retreating from the Chinese market after refusing to abide by its censorship rules.
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