The ruling Chinese Communist Party has apparently launched a fresh censorship drive aimed at stopping people from circumventing content controls ahead of the 70th anniversary of its rise to power, according to an outspoken state media editor.
The complex system of blocks, filters and human censorship known as the Great Firewall has apparently been strengthened ahead of the politically sensitive anniversary on Oct. 1, according to Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times tabloid, which has close ties to ruling party mouthpiece the People's Daily.
"It's getting harder and harder to access the internet outside of China as National Day approaches," Hu posted to the Sina Weibo social media platform on Wednesday. "Even work at the Global Times has been affected."
His tweet was later unavailable on Weibo, suggesting it too may have fallen victim to censorship.
Former journalist Zhang Fengli also weighed in on social media, pointing out that Hu's use of the word "even" was extremely telling, but that his post was deleted after just three hours.
Informed sources told RFA that high-ranking state-run media outlets like the Global Times generally have specially dedicated lines they use to circumvent the Great Firewall, which are managed and controlled by government agencies in charge of technology. These networks are cable only, and can't be accessed wirelessly.
A source who works in law, who gave only his surname Zhang, said Hu Xijin's post was telling because of his assumption that the paper would have easier access to the internet outside China's borders than the rest of the country.
But it also showed that the majority of people in China have scant idea of what their government is doing much of the time.
"This isn't the first time [the Global Times] have done this," Zhang said. "They have a tendency to talk about quite sensitive topics in a manner that shrugs off their sensitive nature, and this is often the only way that the general public find out about something quite sensitive."
"But the majority of people have no way to get hold of information even after it has been distorted," he said.
Commercial websites hard to access
Communications technology specialist Chen Kang'en said his clients have recently complained that they can't access their own commercial websites hosted in the United States, suggesting that Hu's complaint did indeed indicate a stronger firewall.
"It's become very hard for people inside China to get onto a U.S.-based commercial website lately," Chen told RFA. "Probably the last couple of months."
"For example, not being able to access the sites, or they time out, or your intenet connection gets cut off," he said. "I think they are clamping down on the whole process of getting online and on the content you can access and the volume of data."
"Everyone thinks the whole internet has gotten slower, so maybe they have overdone it a bit," he said, adding that many think the issue is linked to recent anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong and to the forthcoming National Day celebrations.
Shaanxi-based journalist Wang Lijun agreed, saying that the weeks running up to the 70th anniversary are part of a nationwide cybersecurity clampdown.
Requests for an interview with an official from Beijing's Cyberspace Administration went unanswered at the time of writing.
An official who answered the phone at the agency on Wednesday declined to comment when contacted by RFA.
Since taking office in 2013, President Xi Jinping has implemented his notion of "cyber sovereignty," which promotes separate jurisdictions for cyberspace according to national boundaries, with each "internet" regulated by the government in question, "without external interference."
The Global Times has repeatedly defended the concept in its editorials, saying that China has the right to "choose" a political system that is different from liberal Western democracy.
Reported by Wong Siu-san and Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.