Internet Fragmentation > The Chinese Firewall

When is the Internet Not the Internet?

Region: Asia-Pacific
Threat type: National Internet Gateways
Last updated: 1 December 2023

China’s intranet is so separated from the global Internet that it is more accurately described as a national intranet.

The ‘Great Firewall of China’ is a nickname given to the system used by the People’s Republic of China to restrict access to the global Internet within the borders of Mainland China. This ‘firewall’ is characterized by strict control over the flow of information and the use of tools to filter and block content according to government guidelines.

Content moderation is not unique to China, but the scale and tactics used stand out from other global practices. Whereas most other countries block illegal content at the platform level, China additionally takes efforts to block content at the infrastructure level of the Internet (intranet in China’s case), resulting in mass-blocking of not only illegal content but also large swathes of content that would be legal under Chinese law.

Global Internet traffic comes into and out of China via a limited number of terrestrial links. At these entry points, incoming content is filtered and inspected by government authorities. These authorities have the ability to block entire domain names and IP address ranges. The system also filters content by scanning for certain keywords and phrases. When a search for a keyword or phrase is identified, the system redirects the website query to stop Internet users from reaching their intended destination.

Legislation aids the use of these tools by Chinese authorities. China has implemented major laws to establish its data localization and transfer regime, under which data can only be transferred out of the country after a cybersecurity review.

Internet users within Mainland China have a different experience to those in the rest of the world. Severe limitations are placed on the websites and content that they are able to access, fragmenting them from knowledge production happening in the rest of the world. China’s system may best be described as a national intranet, in comparison to the global Internet enjoyed elsewhere in the world.


China’s blocking and filtering system has been well documented for many years. Advocacy urgency is low as the political process in China does not allow for civil society input.  There are a number of attempts by other countries to implement national gateways, which could lead to a number of models similar to this ‘great firewall’. It is important to oppose the normalization of these national gateways wherever they are proposed or under consideration.

Our Position

China’s intranet is so separated from the global Internet that it is more accurately described as a national intranet.

Green background with patterns

Talking Points

  • China’s intranet is not the Internet at all. A key characteristic of the Internet is that it is global in nature. Chinese authorities carefully curate and allow in only certain parts of the global Internet.
  • Government abuse of filtering and blocking not only has negative consequences for people’s access to information, but can also negatively impact China’s relationship with other countries. Chinese internet users have fewer opportunities to freely interact and collaborate with their counterparts around the world.
  • By blocking foreign providers, China has managed to develop its own national providers but it has done so at great cost. Other countries would struggle to replicate China’s approach due to differences in population scale and timeframe of digitization–blocking foreign providers is not at all a proven strategy for growing domestic markets.