Just in time for its once-a-decade leadership handover, the Chinese government appears to have blocked all access to Google and its services, including Gmail, inside China.
According to Google's own online transparency reporting, which provides realtime traffic data for Google sites around the world, a precipitous drop-off of traffic to Google sites began at exactly 5 p.m. China time Nov. 9, and is still ongoing.
The Cable asked Google what was going on and a spokesperson replied simply: "We've checked and there's nothing wrong on our end."
Websites that monitor Internet censorship in China report that attempts to access various Google services inside China right now are met with a redirection to a non-functional IP address.
"The subdomains www.google.com, mail.google.com, google-analytics.com, docs.google.com, drive.google.com, maps.google.com, play.google.com and perhaps many more are all currently DNS poisoned in China. Instead of the real IP addresses, any lookups from China to any of these domains result in the following IP: 220.127.116.11. That IP address is located in Korea and doesn't serve any website at all," reports the site greatfire.org. "This means that none of these websites, including Google Search, currently work in China, unless you have a VPN or other cirumvention [sic] tool."
Chinese netizens have also been grumbling about Google over the past few hours. "What's wrong with the Google browser," wrote one Weibo user in Fujian. "It's been stumbling through just to get an order on Taobao [China's largest e-commerce website]. Not easy..."
"Without Google, I can't access any basic apps. It has the ability to shut down the entire web," wrote another.
Washington Post blogger Max Fisher noted that the move is the second time Google has been blocked in China and is part of an overall set of restrictions imposed this week.
"Is this Web freedom in the Xi Jinping era, which begins this week as the vice president starts a 10-year term leading China?" Fisher wrote. "The state has been clamping down all week for the once-in-a-decade Party Congress, so it's not clear if this is a temporary move or a permanent one. But, either way, China has made clear that, if it ever considered Google beyond blocking, it doesn't anymore."
The last and only other time Google was blocked in China was in 2010 shortly after Google announced it would no longer censor search terms on Google.cn and moved the bulk of its Chinese operations to Hong Kong. That move followed a series of Gmail attacks in 2010, directed at Chinese human rights activists, which were widely suspected to be linked to the Chinese government.
More recently, Google has taken an aggressive approach to helping users combat government cyber censorship, by doing things such as warning Gmail users when Google suspects their accounts are being targeted by state-sponsored attacks and telling users when search terms they enter are likely to be rejected by Chinese government censorship filters.
In a July interview with The Cable, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said that China's "Great Firewall" will eventually crumble and that when the Chinese Internet censorship regime fails, the penetration of information throughout the country will also cause political and social liberalization that will fundamentally change the nature of the Chinese government's relationship to its citizenry.
"I personally believe that you cannot build a modern knowledge society with that kind of behavior, that is my opinion," he said. "I think most people at Google would agree with that. The natural next question is when [will China change], and no one knows the answer to that question. [But] in a long enough time period, do I think that this kind of regime approach will end? I think absolutely."
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