Panic struck when media reported China would ban all VPN activity in February 2018, allowing to circumvent China’s internet censorship. That was a shock for many, and seems to have been confused with a business licensing system for VPN’s. Whatever is going to happen, innovation and startups need unfettered access to VPN, says innovation expert Andy Mok to Bloomberg.
China’s government plans to allow businesses to keep using VPNs for access to the outside world — if they obtain approval for corporate lines and register their usage. But it’s not clear how easily businesses will get VPNs approved and, even if they do, employees may be out of luck when they work from home or from their smartphones on the road. Ambitious entrepreneurs and startups may be hardest hit.
“VPNs are absolutely critical and foundational to almost any businesses in China, large or small – and especially important for innovative businesses,” said Andy Mok, Beijing-based managing director at Red Pagoda Resources, which advises startups and other companies in China. “Denying access to VPNs in China would demolish the entire stack of the startup ecosystem here.”
Chinese regulators for now are trying to assuage fears of a wider crackdown. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a statement Wednesday in which it emphasized its original January notice governing VPN use should remain the main point of reference, and promised not to sever legitimate means of accessing the global internet. Yet frequent users are mindful of the country’s spotty record on that front.
Many software developers in China rely on overseas code libraries, which may be inaccessible without VPNs. For instance, the popular developers’ site Github was briefly blocked in China in 2013.
“Despite all the advances that China has made, there’s still a lot of product innovations that happen abroad that entrepreneurs in China can and need to learn from, and they often learn through overseas news sites,” Mok said.
Are you looking for more experts on innovation at the China Speakers Bureau? Do check out this list.