Russian communication watchdog Roskomnadzor removed China’s most popular social networking tool WeChat from the list of prohibited websites this Thursday, nearly one week after the app was blocked for failing to comply with the country’s regulations.

The regulator said WeChat has now “provided the information that is necessary to include them in the registry” of online firms.

When the app was blocked on May 4, the news sparked heated discussions on China’s online community because the situation is drawing a comparison on China’s ban on western services, like Facebook and Twitter.

While the Russian authority may claim that WeChat was blocked over its failure to register contact details, some Chinese netizens believe there are more political issues involved and that the news indicated a rift between China’s usual ally.

Others think the media is making a fuss over a trifle technical issue and there’s no point to make a big deal of it.

Despite the discussions, the truth may lie in somewhere in between. It might be a technical issue, but there are some political issues involved as well. Russia is taking an increasingly similar approach to China in controlling its online environment. The country passed a law in 2015 that requires companies to store data about Russian citizens in the country, similar to Chinese regulations preventing data collected in China from leaving the country.

Obviously, this move is not designed to fend off any particular country or company. All kinds of services including LinkedIn, Line, and BlackBerry Messenger have been blocked previously for violating the law.

WeChat, which claims around 900 million monthly active users globally, has yet to meaningfully expand its presence beyond China or the Chinese community overseas. Despite its aggressive global push, a dominating majority of its users still coming from its home country. 

Emma Lee

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via lixin@sixthtone.com or Twitter.

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