Exclusive: Restricted offshore access to Taiwan-facing Chinese province website – sources

HONG KONG, May 25 (Reuters) – Some offshore users of an official Chinese website that provides economic and demographic data on Taiwan’s southeastern Fujian province say their access has been restricted as Beijing steps up its focus on information security. .

The reason for the move was not immediately clear, but it comes after a similar blocking of access for offshore users to some Chinese financial and academic databases and consulting firms targeting Beijing over national security concerns.

More than half a dozen users with knowledge of the matter said that some users outside the mainland were unable to access the site within the purview of the Fujian statistics bureau.

One Singapore-based researcher said he started finding the restrictions in March, while others said they learned about them more recently.

The official website for Fujian, with an economy of $790 billion comparable to that of Switzerland, regularly published data on topics such as economic growth, energy consumption and home sales, according to users and a site review.

That data has been an important source of detailed information for some research firms, economists and foreign financial institutions that track the world’s second-largest economy, added the users, who requested anonymity because the subject is sensitive.

These restrictions, at a time when China seeks to shore up an economy that is slowly recovering from strict measures against the pandemic, are likely to weigh on foreign investors who already face tighter regulatory controls and geopolitical tensions.

“If the Fujian case was a deliberative decision, it will set a precedent that is likely to be followed by other local or central government agencies,” said Xin Sun, who teaches Chinese and East Asian business at King’s College London.

While China has made fewer government-affiliated websites accessible to offshore users in recent years amid heightened tension with the United States, restricting access to the Fujian government website is a rare step, users said.

Fujian’s provincial statistics bureau is “studying the condition”, one of its officials said, when asked for comment, but gave no further details.

The State Council Information Office, which handles media inquiries on behalf of the Chinese government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Bureau of Statistics, did not immediately respond to faxed requests for comment.


Some companies are scrambling to reduce risk after Beijing’s crackdown, which engulfed Shanghai-based consultancy Capvision, this month, particularly as a sweeping update to anti-espionage laws takes effect from July 1.

But the heightened focus on information security also comes as the latest data point to a weakening of economic growth momentum, while the youth unemployment rate has reached a record high.

One of China’s leading financial data providers, Wind Information Co, has blocked some offshore users from accessing certain business and economic data since the end of last year, Reuters reported this month.

A key academic database, the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), also limited access to foreign subscribers starting April 1, those notified of the suspension said.

However, other official websites of provincial statistics departments can be accessed by offshore users normally for now, users said. Fujian’s website is accessible from the mainland, a Reuters analysis showed.

Data from Chinese provinces can help analysts and economists track regional trends such as migration patterns within the workforce, land and property sales, and industrial development.

Fujian’s website, for example, also detailed the expansion of advanced and basic manufacturing industries in the province, as well as population census results that incorporate the demographics of each of its cities.

But its importance has surpassed that of other provinces as some foreign investors have closely tracked it for any signs of military movement amid tension in the Taiwan Strait, two Hong Kong hedge fund investors said.

The Mainland Affairs Council, which sets policy for China, declined to comment.

There is a clear tendency for foreign access to domestic data to be limited by the Chinese Communist Party for national security reasons, Sun added.

“In the context of geopolitical tension with the West and the Party’s growing concern for national security, any involvement with the West could become a politicized issue,” he said.

Reporting by Hong Kong newsroom and Joe Cash in Beijing; Editing by Sumeet Chatterjee and Clarence Fernandez

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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