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June 09, 2014

Chinese Web Publisher Avoids Great Firewall With Help of Amazon

by Rebecca Valli

Chinese authorities have increased online censorship in the past few weeks, a sensitive time that coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown. 
VOA spoke with the editor behind Pao-pao.net, a Chinese language news website whose entire conent is hosted on Amazon's web services and encrypted in a way that makes it difficult for Chinese censors to block access to it.

VOA spoke with the editor behind Pao-pao.net, who asked that his name not be used. 

Has the recent increase in online monitoring by Chinese authorities affected your website?

“Right before the June 4 [Tiananmen] anniversary I contacted our IT partner back in Beijing, the GreatFirewall people. They have informed me that so far nothing had happened to Pao-pao.  But right afterwards I saw Pao-pao's mirror site, which is hosted on Amazon cloud, has been very unstable. We haven't been able to confirm if it's a consequence of the June 4 anniversary or something else."

What is Pao-pao's editorial goal and how do you manage to keep it functioning within China?

“The editorial direction of Pao-pao is trying to make it a platform that could inform the Chinese netizens of the online security and the Internet development situation in China and around the world. Because of the technology, which is dubbed as “collateral freedom,” we can do uncensored news, we can do honest reporting about these issues.  Pao-pao uses this technology, which we host on international cloud services, that the Chinese government don't dare to take down because of the vast amount of economic interests invested on them.  So we can see how far this model could go.”

What problems do international Internet companies face as they expand their business into China?

“I think that international companies now are in a dilemma, they are hitting a difficult spot because if they want to continue or start doing business in China they have to comply with the Chinese government request, which basically means they have to block or take down information that the Chinese government think is too sensitive for the Chinese public.  On the other hand, you see Chinese Internet companies they have been actively complying with the Chinese government's requests: taking down accounts, keeping records of their users.  A lot of Chinese tech companies are happy that foreign companies, like Google and Microsoft, are backing out of China.  I think it is a joint effort by the government and these companies to push them out so they can provide market for domestic companies.”

Pao-pao relies on technology hosted on Amazon.  Do you worry that as Amazon increases its business in China, they might be more willing to comply with stricter rules and disallow cloud services for websites like Pao-pao?

“So far, it's unforeseen.  It's our sincere hope that Amazon will be an ethical company, that will try to keep the Internet free and neutral so every voice can be expressed on their services.  If they do receive pressure to block Pao-pao and websites like that we are also prepared for that and we are expanding to other cloud services as well.