China has placed a partial block on WhatsApp, the messaging service, as the Chinese authorities are tightening Internet censorship.
This is on account of such reshuffling of leadership in Beijing.
Text Messaging Allowed
Though photos, videos and voice messaging services for WhatsApp were blocked, text messages were allowed. Many users in China have, however, complained that WhatsApp messages have also been blocked. Many users of WhatsApp in China found that they had difficulty in using the app on the 18th of July, due to the Internet clampdown by Beijing.
Social Networking Sites Blocked
Prior to this week, WhatsApp has been the only service that is owned by Facebook and is still in operation in China. Facebook has been blocked from the year 2009, due to some ethnic riots in the country. Instagram has also been banned during the Hong protests in the year 2014.
They complained that they were not able to exchange photos and videos using the WhatsApp, without a VPN network. VPNs are generally used to get around such censorship, as the censorship of the country routinely blocks sites that offer information that could be sensitive to the Communist Party. These sites include, YouTube and Twitter. VPNs enable the rerouting of the traffic. All services were normal when they used a VPN.
Shuffle in Leadership
The ban has been implemented because of a change in leadership that will be implemented later on this year. This takes place twice in ten years. Many groups within the Communist party of the country will be fighting for the top positions and the President, Xi Jinping, will be further consolidating his power.
The Great Firewall of China is one of the most powerful censors in the world. They have already blocked several thousand websites, such as Facebook and Google, Instagram and YouTube and several other foreign news sites.
WhatsApp and WeChat
Beijing is presently on a campaign of cleaning up the Internet and many VPN providers have closed down, with video content being restricted. However WhatsApp is available in mainland China. It is not as popular compared to the WeChat app, but many users in China prefer it, as it has end to end encryption features.
Tencent owns WeChat and it has also censored messages that it finds sensitive to the Communist Party. It does this without notifying the users.
The closing down of WhatsApp will be beneficial for WeChat, and Beijing will prefer this. WeChat is a homegrown business and it is already more popular when compared to WhatsApp. WeChat already boasts a high user number of 900 million. However, many Chinese users are interested in using WhatsApp, as it offers better security features. It is also more useful for those who wish to remain in contact with their friends or business contacts located in other countries.
Benefits for Native Sites
Most of the native businesses have profited from the closing down or the censorship of foreign sites. For instance, when Google was banned, Baidu, the native search engine stood to gain. When Twitter was blocked, the native competitor Weibo was the benefitted.
According to a censorship researcher based in China, it is possible that everything will be blocked on WhatsApp, including messaging. This will force the Chinese users to opt for WeChat, which is unencrypted and monitored or censored.
List of Banned Sites
The list of banned sites in China seems to be growing longer day-by-day. In the last few months, there have been stories of major sites stopping the streaming of video or audio content. Every time there is an official or political event, the Chinese Communist regime begins to crack down more strictly. This is done in order to avoid any controversial news or images from being captured and sent through these apps.