'Radio Free China' Plan Discussed
Congress wants to encourage democratic reform through broadcasts
WITH the crumbling of communism in Eastern Europe, Congress is looking to apply the cold-war success of international broadcasting to breach the communist redoubt of China.A dozen lawmakers, with the support of exiled Chinese dissidents, are seeking to set up a radio station modeled on Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, the United States-backed stations that have broadcast into Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union since the 1950s. Radio Free China, as its backers have dubbed it, has encountered little opposition in its embryonic stage. Bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate to explore the idea, and a presidential task force will hold hearings in mid-September on broadcasting into China. The State Department says it will not block initial study of a separate broadcasting service. Even President Bush, who has maintained conciliatory diplomacy with China, has so far taken no public stand on the project. The idea of using broadcasts to pressure oppressive governments has spawned a separate proposal in the House to set up a station to broadcast into Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. "The political debate is simple," exiled Chinese student leader Shen Tong says, explaining Washington's initial support for Radio Free China. "It has worked in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union." Congressional debates on human rights abuses in China inspired Rep. John E. Porter (R) of Illinois to appropriate the Radio Free Europe model for China: "Having seen the value of Radio Free Europe, it's a natural progression that such an approach might help the progressive, democratic movement in China." Chinese dissidents believe such a radio station would increase public dissatisfaction with the hardline leadership that has become entrenched since the June 4, 1989, military crackdown on pro-democracy student demonstrators in Beijing. "If Americans want to help China democratize, the most important and most effective thing they can do is this," says Liu Binyan, a former investigative reporter for People's Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, who now lives in Princeton, N.J. "This will reach ordinary people." Mr. Liu knows very well the impact information can have in China. His essays and reportage exposing corrupt officials earned him the admiration of students and expulsion from the party twice, most recently in January 1987. "The most important thing is to break the Chinese news blockade," Liu says. For 40 years [the Communist Party] hasn't reported any important events." Chinese routinely pick up news about the world and home on shortwave radio broadcasts from the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corporation. But VOA's mission is to tell the world about the United States. Radio Free China, like the US-backed Eastern European and Soviet Union broadcasting services, would focus on what is happening in China. The station would likely be placed under the direction of the US Board for International Broadcasting, which oversees Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Action on Mr. Porter's bill or on Delaware senator Joseph R. Biden's measure - both of which have bipartisan support - is unlikely before the Presidential Task Force on International Broadcasting makes its recommendations by the end of the year. The panel, convened to examine the US foreign broadcast services, may give Radio Free China more than a fair hearing. Committee member Ben Wattenberg supported the station in a recent syndicated column, saying the world would benefit from the fall of China's comm unist rulers. Task force executive director Ed Dillery says the same goal may perhaps be achieved for less money by increasing VOA broadcasts, a notion which has wide support in VOA's Chinese language service. Money, however, does not appear to be a problem even with Washington's tight budgets. Eastern Europe's political progress no longer justifies large outlays for Radio Free Europe. And $230 million has already been appropriated for a transmitting station in Israel that, due to the objections of the Israeli military and environmental groups, may never be built. If Radio Free China becomes a reality, its supporters expect the greatest obstacles to be political, not economic. Full White House support would run counter to the quiet, nonconfrontational approach the Bush administration has adopted on contacts and trade with China despite congressional opposition. Fears of angering China's leaders scuttled a previous effort by dissidents to broadcast information into China from a ship. The French-financed ship was stopped without ever broadcasting last year after Singapore, Taiwan, and British-ruled Hong Kong allowed the craft to dock but refused to permit essential broadcasting equipment to be loaded on board. China pressured all three territories to turn away the ship. Its embassy refused to comment about the new broadcasting service. Such opposition, however, is Radio Free China's reason for being. "Obviously it would upset the oppressive government in Beijing. That is what it is intended to do," says Porter. "It's intended to force them to allow greater democracy and freedom in China."