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Communist party boss blames Kunming knife attack on VPNs

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The Communist Party’s chief official in western China’s Xinjiang region has blamed online videos and virtual private networks (VPNs) for the knife attack at Kunming station last week that left 29 dead and dozens injured.

Speaking during a meeting at the annual National People’s Congress in Beijing last week, Zhang Chunxian claimed that this “terrorist” attack in the capital of Yunnan province as well as other recent outbursts of violence by ethnic Uighurs in the frontier region, was due to “the fast spread of informatisation”.

“By that I mean, 90 per cent of terrorism in Xinjiang comes from jumping the wall. Violence and terrorism keep happening due to the videos on the internet,” he added, according to the FT.

“Jumping the wall” is commonly used to describe the use of tools, usually VPNs, to bypass the Great Firewall, China’s comprehensive web censorship apparatus.

For many businesses and individuals in China, VPNs a lifeline to the unfettered internet, where they can reach the likes of Gmail, Facebook, Twitter with no fear of monitoring or disruption.

A cat-and-mouse game between the authorities and VPN users has been playing out for years in China, most recently resulting in tweaks to the Great Firewall at the close of 2012 which ended up blocking several VPN protocols.

Given the extent and sophistication of China’s censorship apparatus it’s no surprise that the country was among the top five in a recent study of global VPN usage by Global Web Index, although India, Vietnam and Thailand ranked higher.

The internet is often blamed by Beijing for endangering the harmony of the Middle Kingdom and allowing the seeding of propaganda by “hostile foreign forces”.

In 2009, for example, the authorities cut access altogether in Xinjiang after rioting there by ethnic Uighurs led to the deaths of hundreds of Han Chinese. That blackout lasted for nearly a whole year. ®

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