US-born skier Eileen Gu, who recently won her first gold medal while competing for China, defended China’s draconian internet restrictions by arguing that it’s easy for citizens to dodge the so-called “Great Firewall”.
Her comments came after an Instagram user took the 18-year-old skier to task on Tuesday, asking Gu why she gets “special treatment” and is allowed to use Instagram while “millions of Chinese people from [the] mainland cannot.”
“That’s not fair, can you speak up for those millions of Chinese who don’t have internet freedom,” the commenter added.
In a flippant response accompanied by a thumbs-up emoji, Gu wrote, “Anyone can download a vpn its literally free on the App Store.”
But Gu — who has stirred controversy by choosing to compete for her mother’s native country despite being raised in California — failed to mention that VPNs are illegal for most people in China.
Those without government permission to use the tools — which let internet users dodge government censorship by letting them appear like they’re browsing from another country — can be fined or even arrested. In one example from 2017, a Chinese man was sentenced to more than five years in jail for selling VPN software, The Guardian reported.
On Chinese social media site Weibo, some users praised Gu for fighting back against critics of China, while others said the comments made the star athlete look arrogant.
In one popular comment, a user wrote that they “envy the calmness and elegance” of Gu “having privilege without knowing (or pretending not to know).”
“It is illegal for me to climb the wall, literally it’s fxxking not free at all,” the user added.
In an ironic twist, screenshots of Gu’s comment defending China’s internet restrictions were even censored on Weibo after they started making the rounds on the site, according to Protocol, which first reported on the controversy.
Gu — who has also modeled for Louis Vuitton and other luxury brands — has repeatedly dodged questions about whether she renounced her US citizenship in order to compete in China, which doesn’t allow dual citizenship.
“When I’m in the U.S., I’m American, but when I’m in China, I’m Chinese,” Gu has said.