Gmail traffic slowly resumes in China; government involvement denied

Gmail access slowly returns to China, days after nationwide outages reported

Access to Gmail seems to be slowly returning to China, after a four-day disruption knocked out virtually all access to the popular email service from Google.

According to the Internet giant's Transparency Report, Gmail traffic in the country ticked up slightly Tuesday, after a sharp drop-off that began around Thursday evening. The traffic has not returned to levels seen before the email service went down.

It's unclear exactly what caused the outage last week. In a statement, a Google spokesman said the company had checked its systems and "there's nothing technically wrong on our end."

There was widespread speculation that Beijing's surveillance and censorship program was responsible for the Gmail outage. The email service had been spotty for months, ever since officials cracked down on a number of Google's myriad Internet services in anticipation of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests.

According to GreatFire.org, an organization that monitors Chinese censorship, users were still able to access Gmail through third-party email clients. But even that workaround was disrupted during the latest outage, the group said, after officials apparently began to block large numbers of IP addresses used by Gmail. 

An op-ed in the state-run Global Times newspaper called claims that the Chinese government blocked access "dubious," and blamed Google, which it said "values more its reluctance to be restricted by Chinese law, resulting in conflict."

"If the China side indeed blocked Gmail, the decision must have been prompted by newly emerged security reasons," the op-ed read. "If that is the case, Gmail users need to accept the reality of Gmail being suspended in China."

In a news conference Monday, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, had said she was not aware of the disruption.

Google has been in Beijing's crosshairs since at least 2010, when the Internet giant announced it would no longer abide by the government's censorship rules and began redirecting mainland users to its Hong Kong site, which doesn't face the same restrictions. The company maintains some operations in China.

The company's video service, YouTube, has been blocked in China for years, as have popular U.S. social media sites Facebook and Twitter.

Google declined to comment on the apparent return of Gmail service to China on Tuesday.

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