As of last Friday reports started coming in that users of Google’s popular webmail service, Gmail, have been unable to access their accounts. Greatfire.org, a website dedicated to monitoring internet censorship in China, is currently displaying the following alert,
‘All Google products in China have been severely disrupted since June of this year and Chinese users have not been able to access Gmail via its web interface since the summer. However, email protocols such as IMAP, SMTP and POP3 had been accessible but are not anymore. These protocols are used in the default email app on iPhone, Microsoft Outlook on PC and many more email clients.
On December 26, GFW started to block large numbers of IP addresses used by Gmail. 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.
Google’s own traffic chart shows a sharp decline of Chinese traffic to Gmail.’
A Google spokesman based in Singapore has stated in an email that ‘we’ve checked and there’s nothing wrong on our end,’ prompting concern from the US State Department in Washington,
‘We encourage China to be transparent in its dealings with international companies and to consider the market signal it sends with such acts.’
An official Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, however yesterday denied any knowledge of the block, adding that,
‘China has consistently had a welcoming and supportive attitude toward foreign investors doing legitimate business here. We will, as always, provide an open, transparent and good environment for foreign companies in China.’
Pro-Chinese government newspaper Global Times has further muddied the waters by publishing an editorial which suggests the block may be the result Google’s refusal to cooperate with Chinese laws,
‘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.
If the China side indeed blocked Gmail, the decision must have been prompted by newly emerged security reasons. If that is the case, Gmail users need to accept the reality of Gmail being suspended in China. But we hope it is not the case.
We only need to have faith that China has its own logic in terms of Internet policy and it is made and runs in accordance with the country’s fundamental interests. Besides, there are interactions between China and the US, and between Google and China. We don’t want to be shut off, as it obviously doesn’t serve our own interests.’
We will keep readers updated on the situation, although visitors to China should find our recently updated article on 5 Best VPNs for China is full of useful advice on evading Great Firewall censorship (including of Gmail). Unfortunately for those already in mainland China, BestVPN is also blocked there…