‘New Era’ of Controls

China plans a meticulously scripted anniversary celebration of Communist Party rule, under extremely tight security.

2009-09-29
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60-years-tiananmen-305.jpg Police check the bags of two men near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Sept. 27, 2009.
AFP
HONG KONG—Chinese authorities have stepped up controls over the movement of people, goods, and information ahead of the sensitive 60th anniversary of Communist Party rule, ushering in a new era of information control that may be here to stay.

The anniversary comes as Beijing struggles to quell ethnic tensions in China’s northwest, which were followed in recent days by an explosion in the Chinese capital at a restaurant owned by Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs.

“Of course this is an extremely sensitive time for the authorities,” a shop-owner in the same street as the restaurant explosion in Beijing’s Xinjiekou district said.

“They have stepped up police patrols around the clock ever since the explosion. Everyone is wondering whether or not the explosion was man-made,” said the restaurateur, identified by his surname Guo.

A reporter in the capital said journalists had been ordered to stick to the officially sanctioned Xinhua news agency reports on the incident.

“We aren’t allowed to conduct reporting on this ourselves,” said the journalist, who declined to be identified.

Clampdown

Meanwhile, China’s netizens are disgruntled at the failure of Internet circumvention tools to get around an increasingly sophisticated set of blocks and censorship filters known as the “Great Firewall.”

The authorities are implementing a nationwide security clampdown ahead of the Oct. 1 National Day celebrations, closing key Web sites and discussion boards, and detaining people who try to lodge complaints in Beijing about local governments.

Chinese netizens and overseas technology experts say the authorities are now successfully undermining key software used to climb over the Great Firewall.

U.S.-based software developer Andrew Lewman said his company had been contacted by users in China complaining that his Tor “tunneling” software was no longer working for them.

Bill Xia, CEO of U.S.-based Dynamic Internet Technology, which created Freegate software to circumvent government blocking, said Tor was the last circumvention tool to be targeted because not that many Chinese people use it.

“It is the sort of tool that was previously used to hide information from the FBI about a user’s identity. It involves hiding one’s IP address on numerous computers and under several layers of encryption.”

Showing off capabilities

But Xia warned that the failure of circumvention tools to get around the Great Firewall aren’t limited to National Day celebrations.

“Everyone is going to link this to National Day, but another thing to consider is that the Chinese government is showing off its new technological capabilities, which include the technology to control the Internet and to upgrade its entire system,” Xia said.

“This means that China is entering a new phase of technological capability, and is pouring more and more human and material resources into doing this.”

Border checks at road-crossing points from the former British colony of Hong Kong means that dispatch deliveries are now becoming unreliable, industry sources said.

An employee at a privately owned road dispatch company said checks on vehicles crossing the border between mainland China and Hong Kong, which has maintained separate border controls since returning to Chinese rule in 1997, have been stepped up in recent days.

“We are currently unable to guarantee that our packages will arrive as advertised, owing to very strict checks on vehicles crossing the border at Shenzhen in recent days,” she said.

Postal controls

“Sometimes we just can’t get the package there, and it could arrive up to two working days late.”

Controls have also been stepped up on postal services, especially for larger packages coming in and out of Beijing.

An employee who answered the phone at the Beijing Post Office said that express delivery packages between Beijing and other Chinese cities are subject to security checks during the National Day holiday period.

“Any of the larger packages, especially around the National Day holiday, is likely to undergo security checks if it is coming into Beijing from other places in China or from Hong Kong. The checks are pretty tight right now.”

“Our working times are very unpredictable right now because of the National Day holiday,” said an official in charge of postal security checks.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long and Tang Qiwei, and in Cantonese by Fung Yat-yiu and Lee Kin-kwan. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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