Although Hong Kong was intended to operate independently from China, they cannot escape the sentiments and influence of China’s communist party. Once regarded as the only free and uncensored area of China, Hong Kong is losing more of its independence with each passing day. This year’s National Day events have inspired ruthless protests, and the government is responding by stripping even more power from the people.
Increasingly Violent Demonstrations
China has a robust history of protests involving heated battles between the government and its people. The Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 left thousands of student protesters either dead or unaccounted for, something the Chinese government has yet to provide a satisfactory response to. While only one student protester was verifiably shot this year, riots and tension have grown out of control.
The people of Hong Kong and mainland China want change, and the government refuses to hear them. Molotov cocktails have been flying through the night. Citizens have taken to the streets in masks, vandalizing public property. China’s public transit system was shut down, and armed police marched through the streets in full riot gear.
Despite the fact that the problem is that the Chinese people want more freedom and a major change in their government, the government has only doubled down. Censorship and restrictions tend to increase around National Day, when the oppressed Chinese citizens find it most pertinent to raise their voices.
Where the Bans Began
Ahead of National Day, Hong Kong attempted to ban VPN use. They didn’t want potential protesters or anti-government groups to be able to communicate in secret. They feared the internet blocks would be circumvented and conversations couldn’t be monitored, leading to an uprising that would spiral out of control. The government managed to successfully ban VPNs that don’t utilize stealth protocols, as their use was able to be detected.
During the protests, the government enacted an emergency ban on face masks in public gatherings. Many of the protesters were masked to protect their identities, something highly important in China. The country’s advanced artificially intelligent surveillance system utilizes facial recognition technology. If faces were unobscured, the government could theoretically identify and imprison every protester for unlawful assembly – the penalty being three years behind bars. The ban on masks prevented anonymity, effectively making it impossible for protesters to engage in free speech without fear of repercussions.
This comes in at a time where mainland China is taking things one step further with internet access. By the end of the year, citizens of the mainland will be required to consent to facial recognition to be granted internet permits for any connected devices. It will be a crime similar to a felony to allow an unauthorized user to access the internet via your permit or SIM card.
The Proposed Internet Ban
Ip Kwok-him, a member of Hong Kong’s executive council who publicly sides with Beijing, made troubling statements about the potential fate of Hong Kong’s internet connection. In a statement to AFP, Ip Kwok-him declared “The government will not rule out the possibility of placing a ban on the internet […] I think a condition for implementing the internet ban would be not to affect any businesses in Hong Kong”
Given the current state of affairs, it seems likely that the pro-Beijing politician will get his way. China has drastically stepped up its powers of censorship, and the population of Hong Kong has been the loudest voice of opposition for over two decades. On the surface, it appears as though Hong Kong is quickly losing the small bit of independence it was promised after rejoining the mainland in 1997. It is reasonable to suspect that Hong Kong will soon fully succumb to the mainland’s communist party – whether they want to or not.
Solutions for Privacy
There are no active internet bans at this time. Internet users in Hong Kong should absolutely be utilizing undetectable stealth VPNs. The government cannot ban them because they cannot be recognized like traditional VPNs. This is the only way citizens can continue to communicate about their futures and their fates without being spied upon by oppressive authority figures. TorGuard VPN is currently working in Hong Kong.