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Is it legal to use a VPN in China?




While it’s well-established China keeps a tight grip on the virtual private network industry within its borders, the notion of VPNs being illegal in the Far Eastern country as of recently is somehow both easily disprovable and simultaneously underselling the seriousness of the current situation.

While there aren’t any passionate civil rights advocates to be found within CCP ranks, there’s no denying domestic preconceptions can influence an outsider’s look at any foreign nation, which is likely what happened in this case. Because instead of a ban, what Beijing enacted on June 1st, 2017 is a comprehensive piece of cybersecurity legislation that makes a blanket VPN ban seem like good news for dissidents.

Well, relative to the minefield that’s currently in place, at least. One in which you may still stumble upon an occasional legitimate VPN, but are much more likely to end up paying for a service that’s as fragile as politician’s egos.

Only vetted Chinese VPNs licensed to operate

Understanding how things reached this point isn’t particularly difficult, as the current situation can be traced back to the aforementioned date. It only took Beijing three years to start seizing control of the nation’s web, with first censorship measures beginning in ‘97.

Two decades later, the CCP enacted what may be the last big piece of its firewall lock, a modernized cybersecurity law that’s still being mischaracterized as a blanket VPN ban. As for what it actually was – a clear prelude to a much more dangerous state of affairs wherein the government is picking who can and cannot sell services supposedly protecting you from the eyes of that very same government.

CCP actually ignored foreign VPNs offering tried and true ways of bypassing its censorship firewall for longer than many anticipated. But once the world’s largest intranet started slipping over to the other side, it only took days for the government to force Apple into unconditionally delisting any mobile VPNs on the iOS App Store not approved by its censors.

As already mentioned in our Are VPNs Legal overview, foreign citizens in China aren’t affected by the shift in the government’s dismantling of the VPN industry, which comes at no surprise.