China's state-run media tells citizens to 'accept' Gmail block

The Chinese state-run publication Global Times today told citizens to "accept the reality of Gmail being suspended in China" while simultaneously lashing out at Western media for concluding that the Communist government was behind the outage.

Traffic to Gmail servers from Chinese IP addresses dropped sharply four days ago, the block apparently put in place by the Chinese government, according to Internet performance vendor Dyn Research, as communications reached Hong Kong.

All Gmail traffic to and from China goes through Hong Kong.

In an editorial, the Global Times, an affiliate of China's government-run People's Daily, essentially told Gmail users to suck it up.

"If the China side indeed blocked Gmail, the decision must have been prompted by newly emerged security reasons," the editorial said. "If that is the case, Gmail users need to accept the reality of Gmail being suspended in China."

At the same time, the editorial argued that it wasn't certain that the government locked down Gmail.

"It's dubious that China 'blocked' Gmail simply over security concerns," the newspaper said. "Since both Google and China haven't given an explanation and meanwhile Gmail is a technically complex system, there may be some puzzling reasons behind the incident."

However, Google has said there is nothing amiss on its end, implying that China has, in fact, blocked access at the IP (Internet Protocol) level.

The Global Times also blasted foreign news outlets for saying that the Gmail faucet had been turned off by officials in China. "Western media pointed the finger at Chinese authorities immediately, accusing them of strengthening its cyber censorship," the editorial read. "This is far too simple a hypothesis."

This summer, China blocked several Google services, including search and Gmail, in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests and ensuing violent crackdown. But Gmail users had been able to continue to send and retrieve Gmail messages using POP- and IMAP-capable clients, such as Apple's Mail on iOS and OS X, and Microsoft's Outlook on Windows.

Gmail's sharp decline in traffic from China may have been an attempt by the government to close those loopholes.

On Tuesday, Google's real-time transparency report analytics showed that Chinese Gmail traffic had ticked upward slightly from the flat line of the last four days. There was not enough data to indicate that the block was over, however.

China heavily censors the Internet within its borders using a raft of technology and thousands of human monitors, the whole dubbed the Great Firewall. The government has blocked other services besides those of Google, including Twitter and Facebook.

But China and Google have had an especially contentious relationship. In 2010, Google pulled its servers from the country, relocating them in Hong Kong, and shuttered most of its other operations there after it refused to continue to censor search results. Earlier that year, Google said it had traced a "highly sophisticated and targeted" attack against its network to China.

Nor are Gmail outages in China new. In 2011, for example, Google said China blocked Gmail but made it appear as if the problems were on Google's end.

If the Global Times' editorial is a thinly-disguised statement from the Chinese government, the Gmail block may continue for a long time. "China has to keep strengthening its national security while it opens up to the West," the newspaper said. "We cannot avoid issues like Internet and ideological security when dealing with large IT companies from the West."


Gregg Keizer

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