Will Donald Trump be able to tweet in China?
Here’s what you need to know.
Donald Trump is on a 13-day trip to Asia which includes Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
So far, the visits have not curtailed his Twitter habit, but what will happen when the 45th president is behind China’s firewall for two days?
Here’s what you need to know:
What exactly does China’s firewall prevent?
The so-called Great Firewall of China restricts internet access across the country, so much so that the state was declared the worst for online freedom by Freedom House in 2016.
Many websites and apps are banned, including Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter and some news outlets.
The controls have become even stricter in 2017. The state has begun taking a harder approach against virtual private networks, which can give user more privacy and allow them to customise their location settings, thus side-stepping the firewall. The government has already begun blocking encrypted messaging app WhatsApp.
Wishful headline: "Unable to use a VPN to Access Twitter from China, Trump Chastises Apple for Removing Circumvention Apps from App Store"— GreatFire.org (@GreatFireChina) November 6, 2017
Websites like Great Fire are working to provide a browser to circumvent the restrictions and provide better access to news from within China as well as internationally.
Great Fire co-founder Charlie Smith told the Press Association: “Before Apple removed VPNs from the app store, most foreigners would purchase and use a VPN to get around restrictions.
“Chinese also use VPNs but also other, mainly free, circumvention tools.”
Have politicians got around the firewall before?
Back in 2015, India’s Narendra Modi tweeted a selfie with one of the country’s leaders, Li Keqiang.
It's selfie time! Thanks Premier Li. pic.twitter.com/DSCTszSnq3— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 15, 2015
However, others chose to share photos and updates on their experiences in the state after they had left.
Several former administration officials said they did not recall whether US President Barack Obama took his mobile phone to China. The White House declined to say whether Trump would be taking his phone on the trip, but tweets sent by him since he left Washington are marked as being sent from an iPhone.
In fact, some foreigners can access social media without an awful lot of effort. Because they aren’t registered on any Chinese network, they may be able to log on using hotel wi-fi, or when roaming.
The problem is, using these networks in China can open users up to surveillance if their device isn’t properly protected. This is what Trump’s team will be concerned with during his visit.
Presently, the White House is declining to comment on the president’s ability to tweet in China or the precautions being taken to protect his communications in the heavily monitored state.
What are the security concerns?
As long as Trump follows the recommendations of the White House Communications Agency, he should be fine – Air Force One has secure internet connections and staff should be issued with secure phones specifically for the trip.
When a trip is to a high-risk cyber-espionage location, such as China, Israel or Cuba, aides are given extensive briefings on cybersecurity. Aides are strongly discouraged from even turning on their devices in the offending country.
If staff or Trump use unsecured phones, for example their personal mobiles, they are putting themselves at high risk of being hacked and surveilled, with possible implications for US national security.
Forget whether he can, should Trump tweet?
Smith told the Press Association: “I know that there are a lot of more important issues to be discussed on this trip to China, but, if the President asked for my advice, this is what I would tell him. My tongue is in my cheek:
“Mr Trump, I advise you to tweet. Chinese who circumvent and use Twitter will love it – they will retweet and share and show friends and family who may not be using circumvention tools.
“This will help to raise awareness of censorship and circumvention and, Mr Trump, most importantly, this will help to build your profile in the world’s most populous nation.”
Spoke to President Xi of China to congratulate him on his extraordinary elevation. Also discussed NoKo & trade, two very important subjects!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 25, 2017
However, Smith had some other words of advice for the 45th President on the content of those tweets.
“Mr Trump, if you do tweet, I advise you to keep with tradition. Obama and Clinton made sure that while they were in China they stayed away from publicly raising any issue that might be perceived as embarrassing to the Chinese authorities. You should do the same.”