Reinforced by the coronavirus pandemic, which has had its borders closed since March last year, the new ‘Great Wall’ that separates China from the West continues to rise. Not in industry, where the Asian giant continues to be the ‘global factory’, but in technology and society, where the ideological differences between the authoritarian regime in Beijing and Western democracies are increasingly incompatible.
The latest example has just been starred in the social and labor network LinkedIn, which is leaving the gigantic Chinese market tired of bowing to the censorship that prevails on the internet. “While we have been successful in helping our Chinese users find jobs and economic opportunities, we have not reached the same level in the more social aspects of sharing and staying informed. We are also facing a significantly more demanding operating environment with higher compliance requirements in China, ”LinkedIn announced in the middle of this month. After its closure in this country, it will launch an employment portal, InJobs, but “will not include a social network or the ability to share comments and articles.”
With his withdrawal, the last of the Mohicans from Western social networks in China falls. Present in this country since 2014, when Twitter and Facebook had been blocked since 2009 and Google absent since 2010, LinkedIn has come under fire for bowing to Chinese censorship.
Although the company, owned by Microsoft since 2016, insisted on its support for freedom of expression, he had no choice but to comply with Chinese laws, which oblige all sensitive content to be blocked for its “capicommunist” regime. Unleashing a scandal, this adherence to local regulations has led him to censor western journalists and political activists. In addition, last year he received the order to remove 42 content considered “illegal”, of which he acted in 38, according to ‘The Wall Street Journal’.
For this same publication of censored topics, last March it was punished with a ban on adding new members for a month. According to the ‘Wall Street Journal’, Beijing gave him 30 days to regulate its contents and comply with Chinese laws, which seems to have been the last straw for his patience.
Similarly, LinkedIn has not escaped the purge that President Xi Jinping is carrying out in the Chinese technology sector so that nothing and no one overshadow it. Along with 105 local applications, LinkedIn and another Microsoft website, the Internet search engine Bing, were the only foreign firms reprimanded by the regime for “improper data collection.”
This increasingly hostile environment is compounded by the tough competition LinkedIn has come across in China. Although it has 50 million local users, it has basically served to connect Chinese exporters with their clients abroad because the majority of national Internet users use their own applications such as Zhaopin or Maimai to search for work.
Managed by local owners, the Chinese branch only contributed 2% of LinkedIn’s revenue, whose 10,300 million dollars (8,800 million euros) are only 6% of the total turnover of Microsoft.
Despite the possibilities offered by the huge Chinese market, the chimera with which the regime buys the silence of companies and governments around the world, LinkedIn’s withdrawal is the chronicle of an announced failure. The most recent ones from Instagram, Signal, Clubhouse and, in general, any social network or communications application that does not comply with censorship are added to the blocking of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or Google for more than a decade.
Because of the risk that they address politically sensitive issues that could provoke demonstrations or protests, as seen in the Arab Spring of 2011, all of them are inaccessible in the Asian giant unless one has a VPN. This is the name of the connections, usually paid, to an internet server abroad that allow to bypass the ‘Great Cyber Wall’ of the regime.
Censorship and propaganda
Although such VPNs are essential for expats living in this country, and also for Chinese working abroad, the majority of the population does not have them and uses social networks and national applications, governed by censorship and propaganda.
This generates two parallel realities on the internet, increasingly distanced by this new ‘Great Wall’ of the 21st century. If you type in “Tiananmen” with VPN in the authorized search engine Bing, the first thing that appears is the massacre for the democratic protests of 1989. Without VPN, the Chinese tourists who are pictured smiling in the square under the portrait of Mao.