Conspiracy Theories — Did China's Great Firewall Just Take Down Japan?

Sorry kids, no Pokemon fan site today

If it’s true, it may be the greatest case of blanket censorship in history. Netizens in China reported yesterday that most Japanese domains had been blocked outright. One netizen tweeted on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter: “Craziness. China has now blocked most domain names in Japan, with the key blocked term being ‘.co.jp.’ This is the first time in the world that an entire country has been blocked on the Internet.” {{1}}[[1]]太牛了,中国现在已经屏蔽了日本绝大多数域名,屏蔽关键字为“.co.jp”。世界互联网世上首次出现一次屏蔽一个国家域名的情况发生。[[1]]

This comment drew over 10,000 responses and retweets, as netizens responded with a mix of shock at the scale of the blockage, skepticism about the accuracy of the reports–it appears the blockage was not China-wide–and indifference or even hostility mixed with anti-Japanese sentiment. @肉食系小猴子 used the opportunity to call for a boycott of Japanese websites: “All Chinese: Don’t visit Japanese sites for a year! 1,000 Japanese sites will shut down! Boycott Japanese websites!” {{2}}[[2]]中国人1年不点击日本网站!日本1000家网站倒闭!抵制日本网站啊![[2]]

@契丹人归来 reacted with skepticism, in part because he did not discern a plausible motive for the block: “Don’t readily believe rumors. This is just a technical error. Although the government can come up with anything, there’s just no reason for doing something like blocking all of .co.jp.” {{3}}[[3]]不要随便听信和散布谣言,这次顶多也就是个技术故障,政府虽然啥事都整得出来,但是屏蔽.co.jp这种事,没有任何理由.[[3]]

@陈承测试版, however, wrote that the blockage was indeed happening, and advanced an interesting theory about the possible cause: “It’s true. It wouldn’t be surprising if you couldn’t open google.co.jp, but now you can’t even visit the official websites of the major Japanese newspapers. Did Headmaster Fang wall off all co.jp [sites] in anger at the Yomiuri Shimbun’s report about him?” {{4}}[[4]]尼玛还真是这样,google.co.jp 打不开就算了,之前没有被屏蔽的几大日本主流报纸官网现在也打不开了。难道方校长真是因为之前《读卖新闻》对他的报道而一怒之下墙了所有 co.jp?[[4]]

The hidden might of Headmaster Fang

Who is Headmaster Fang, you ask? None other than Fang Binxing (@方滨兴), the man who has been called the father of China’s so-called Great Fire Wall, the system that “protects” Chinese netizens from naughty websites (some being in fact naughty, others merely disfavored by Chinese authorities). And Fang really is a headmaster, of no less than the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications (BUPT).

Did this man single-handedly disappear Japan from China's Internet?

As a bete noir among web-savvy types, Fang has faced controversy before. In May 2011 at Wuhan University, after netizens tracked his whereabouts via Twitter, unknown assailants launched eggs and shoes in his direction, one of which found its mark (Chinese). (Apparently the headmaster’s not as quick on his feet as one former U.S. President.) Later that year, websites belonging to BUPT were hacked to display a modified “Angry Birds” game with the birds replaced by shoes and the pigs by….well, need we say more? 

So what’s the headmaster’s involvement, if any, with the latest blockage? As with many things in China these days, we need look no further than the disgraced Red Prince himself, fallen former official Bo Xilai.

The Bo Xilai Connection

The headmaster may have a connection with former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun’s well-documented flight to the American consulate in Chengdu, as well as reports of Bo Xilai eavesdropping on the communications of high-level Communist officials. Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reported in April of this year that Wang had bribed the headmaster to provide him with the technology Wang later used to listen in on other officials, leading to the headmaster’s arrest by authorities.

But reports of the headmaster’s downfall were exaggerated. The headmaster expressed his outrage on Weibo, demanding a police investigation into the false rumours. As iPad magazine iSunAffairs reports, tech guru Kai-fu Lee (@李开复) tweeted in response: “It’s difficult to get [Yomiuri] to take responsibility, just wall them off!” {{5}}[[5]]追究麻煩,墻了它吧![[5]]  

While the outage was short-lived–netizen reported the block lifted later in the same day–iSunAffairs and a number of netizens are betting that this was no random accident. Of course, it’s hard to believe that the headmaster himself could have pulled this off, and even harder to imagine this blockage receiving the central government’s blessing. If Fang or his subordinates instead “went rogue,” it is a chilling illustration of the power of China’s censors and their willingness to wield that power to defend one of their own. On the other hand, if it’s just a rumour–or a glitch followed by a rumour–Fang might be tickled to see just how conscious netizens remain of his power.

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