Officials Named in Panama Papers Cower Behind China's Great Firewall

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Chinese authorities have issued censorship instructions to the media following the release of the Panama Papers, according to news reports published last week.

The leaked documents reportedly listed several top Chinese officials who used Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to set up offshore companies.

The names include relatives of at least eight current or previous members of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, such as President Xi Jinping's brother-in-law Deng Jiagui; Li Xiaolin, daughter of former premier Li Peng; and Jasmine Li, granddaughter of former Standing Committee member Jia Qinglin.

The Chinese government issued a notice ordering the media to find and delete any reprinted reports regarding the Panama Papers, according to a report in the China Digital Times.

Media were ordered not to follow up on related content, the report said. Any websites that contain materials from foreign media attacking China will be dealt with severely.

The China Digital Times omitted the name of the issuing body in order to protect the source.

Another notice reportedly instructed a website to withdraw an article about the Panama Papers and related stories from its home page and move them to the back end of the site.

Western media and Washington have controlled the interpretation of document leaks, minimizing information negative to the U.S. and emphasizing information about non-Western leaders, the state-run People's Daily asserted.

The leaks might be disinformation, the publication hinted, adding that the West would be happy to see such leaks occur if they attack its opponents.

No mention was made of any Chinese subjects of the Panama Papers.

"It's now increasingly difficult to completely hide the digital trail of illegal transactions, no matter how rich and powerful you are," commented Chenxi Wang, chief strategy officer at Twistlock.

The Great Firewall was fairly effective in restricting the access of people in China to the Internet "until application-level messaging apps such as WeChat and QQ became popular," she told the E-Commerce Times. "The Great Firewall doesn't work on them."

As more people in China use those apps and others like them to communicate, "the Great Firewall will become increasingly less effective unless the government bans the use of such messaging apps," Wang said.

China's Great Firewall "is effective enough with average citizens, but, as with other censoring efforts, usually fails with the tech-savvy," she pointed out.

In addition to application-level messaging apps like WeChat, tech-savvy Chinese are using anonymous communications and VPNs, Wang said. "Sometimes VPNs don't work at all in China, but you can usually find one that will get you around the Great Firewall."

Even Fang Binxing, the creator of the Great Firewall, has gotten in on circumvention: Earlier this month, he reportedly showed students at Harbin Technical Institute how to use a VPN called "Tianhe," or Galaxy, to access Google and other blocked websites.

"There's clearly a willingness to take the risk of getting caught in China," noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "There are simply too many connections between the West and the East for a strategy like this to work."

Beijing's best strategy would have been to discredit the leaks as false, he told the E-Commerce Times, "but that needs to be done early, and that boat, too, has likely already sailed."

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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