How to Host a Website in China – Surmounting the Great Chinese Firewall

Technology

July 22, 2020

Article written by Joel Henry and Emily Bruner

You have a great website and want it to be available to those located in China. Well, that might not be so simple. You’ve heard of the Great Wall of China? Trying to get into China requires surmounting the Great Chinese Firewall.

First, the legalities around your website being accessed in China are a little scary. China definitely has a Great Chinese Firewall, as it is often referred to. That firewall implements policies on content and service restrictions. For example, most of the major players are blocked (Facebook, Google+, etc.). The blocking occurs in a variety of ways including blocking IP addresses or slowing response times to be completely unbearable to a user\student. There are ways around this – such as hosting in a different country or using a VPN. It should be noted that working around the blocking and restrictions doesn’t mean the user of your website is not violating the laws or policies, just the enforcement tactics.

If you choose to go through a country like Canada, that may work for a long period of time or stop working tomorrow. A user could also be subject to punishment for using a blocked site even though the site has no content that runs afoul of the current (and often changing) content and service restrictions. That said, most websites would not be in violation of any of the policies or laws, but your users could get swept up in a crack-down based on purely technical data – access to blocked content through a foreign server. It is probably more likely that access would just be stopped.

If there is any way to deliver your website through another domain that is permitted in China, that would work great. For example, if your site supports education and can be delivered through an edu domain (name.edu), that may work well and is less likely to be shut down or slowed down. Australia is reporting this has worked for some time (meaning prior to the pandemic and prior to current trade wars).

One option is to register as an Internet Content Provider (ICP) with the Chinese government. Without an ICP registration, a website can be shut down at any time. The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) requires two types of certifications from Internet Content Providers, depending on the type of content that you are delivering: and ICP or a Commercial ICP License. There are also other licenses required for industry-specific websites, such as education.

You must have a local partner, a legal entity in China, to get certified. An ICP certification normally takes between 3 to 6 weeks. This is quite a process. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure can help get the hosting process started, but you still need that local partner.

Another route would be to require users to use a virtual private network (VPN). Although there has been some crackdown on VPNs, there are providers whose VPNs work in China – see the material at the end of this article. Users will not be able to download third-party VPN software from within China without some help from VPN providers through back channels (i.e., email with the installable software attached). However, if downloaded and used in advance of arriving in China, a user will likely be able to use the VPN. There are Chinese approved VPNs but do not rely on them to provide any security. This site lists some of the best VPNs for China.

You can always provide your website to China if not blocked, but be sure to have a proven backup, such as the VPN approach. While there is probably little risk to the users of most websites, it isn’t any risk. Keep in mind current policies focus on user-provided content, access to blocked political content, and e-commerce. If you are clear of all of those areas, you and your users can rest a little easier.

Here is more specific information about how to host your website in China:

Amazon Web Services (AWS) China

Two regions available:
  1. AWS China (Beijing) operated by Beijing Sinnet Technology Co., Ltd.
  2. AWS China (Ningxia) operated by Ningxia Western Cloud Data Technology Co., Ltd.
Products & Services
– Required Steps:
  1. Create AWS (China) Account
  2. Undertake filing procedures (ICP Recordal):
    1. AWS China (Beijing)
    2. AWS China (Ningxia)

Microsoft Azure

Four regions available – all are independent, dedicated networks within China, available to organizations with a business presence in China:
  1. China East (Shanghai)
  2. China East 2
  3. China North (Beijing)
  4. China North 2

Additional web hosting services

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