The Korean government officially announced that people in China have not been able to access Korean messaging apps Line and KakaoTalk for nearly 40 days, since the Chinese government intentionally blocked services to “prevent terrorism in the country.”
However, industry sources and experts point out that there are remaining questions. First, the Chinese government did not define what activity is considered to be terrorism. It neither explained its criteria for blocking mobile messaging apps nor provided an answer as to why Beijing did not block local messaging apps.
“On July 1, it was found that Chinese users were unable to access Line and KakatoTalk. So, we tried to communicate with the Chinese government on July 4 in consultation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” said Lee Jin-kyu, the head of the Internet Policy Bureau at the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) on August 7. The government official went on to say, “Beijing's response was that it blocked access in the country because KakaoTalk and Line were being utilized as a method to distribute information about terror-related activities. Five other messaging apps including Didi, Talk Box, and Vower were also blocked in China.” Lee added, “WhatsApp is running smoothly, since there were no suspicions over terrorism.”
The fact that Chinese messaging apps were not blocked increased doubts about Beijing's move. When asked about the higher possibility of terror threats coming from WeChat than KakaoTalk with more than 600 million subscribers in China, an official at the MSIP responded by saying, “I think that it was difficult for the Chinese government to hold sway over services in the country.”
But Beijing did not elaborate on specific standards for blocking the five messaging apps. The official said, “Terror threats revealed by the Chinese government turned out to be some messages sent from the Muslim world where the possibility of terrorism was mentioned, or related videos.” He also remarked, “We haven't been able to confirm whether or not content related to terrorism was indeed circulated on Korean messaging apps.”
It is unclear when service normalization will be possible. The official commented on this issue by saying, “We do not know when the Chinese government will announces service normalization,” stressing, “We are planning to consult the Chinese counterpart so that people in China can use Korean messaging apps as soon as possible.”
When asked on the latest updates to service normalization in China, a KakaoTalk representative said, “For users on Android devices, those using the latest version [of KakaoTalk] have most of the in-app functionalities back to normal. Some users may face trouble with certain emoticons. For users on iPhones, they can still chat with friends, but much of the other features in the service still remain inaccessible.”