HOW can the United States best respond to China's continuing human-rights abuses? In the debate that has followed the brutal 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, many have called for imposing economic sanctions such as denial of most-favored-nation (MFN) trade privileges. While we may choose this option, there's a far more powerful and cost-efficient way to support democratic reforms and freedom in China, one the old guard in Beijing fears more than MFN withdrawal: promoting change from within by telling the truth to the Chinese people.
I've proposed that we do so through an international broadcasting service called "Radio Free China." This service would provide uncensored news and commentary about events in China and around the world directly to the Chinese people, bypassing their government's efforts to suppress access to information. Radio Free China would keep the Chinese people informed of international news and support for their cause, just as Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty did for those struggling for democracy in Eastern Eu rope and the Soviet Union during the cold war period.
Such a link to the outside world would be welcomed by the Chinese people. At a recent congressional hearing, exiled Chinese journalist Liu Binyan said that the isolation of his people was so thorough that those protesting in Beijing's Tiananmen Square had no way of knowing that similar demonstrations were going on in numerous other Chinese cities. He told the hearing audience that to "let them [the Tiananmen demonstrators] know the people in the provinces are doing the same thing ... would encourage them
In September I testified before the President's Task Force on US Government International Broadcasting about Radio Free China. I pointed out that this initiative would bolster the Chinese people's fight for economic and political freedom and could be expanded to reach citizens of other closed Asian nations, such as North Korea, Burma, Vietnam, and Cambodia. It would supplement current Voice of America broadcasts (which offer general information and entertainment programs) by supplying targeted broadcasts
specifically focused on democratic movements within China itself, and would do so at a modest cost. The president's panel recently gave a boost to this proposal when it released its report supporting expanded broadcasts to China.
The $50 million to $100 million estimated cost could largely be covered by a transfer from cutbacks in US broadcasting to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, where the need for those services has diminished. To review the costs and feasibility of Radio Free China, Congress has established an 11-member Commission on Broadcasting to the People's Republic of China.
No one denies that MFN withdrawal would send a strong message to Beijing. But the Chinese government has amply demonstrated that it is unconcerned with the suffering of its people. The economic hardships of MFN denial would be borne by the Chinese people and would not pressure their leaders to end the horrific crackdown throughout China and Tibet, where millions of people have been killed or imprisoned solely for their political beliefs. Sanctions would also hurt the people and economy of free Hong Kong,
the port through which over 90 percent of Chinese exports now pass.
MFN withdrawal would also damage the seeds of free enterprise now taking root in Guangdong province, where since the late 1970s China has allowed limited free-market reforms that are producing exceptional results. Obviously, we want to encourage this turn toward free enterprise, but MFN denial would likely bring this remarkable success story to an end.
Before we wield the MFN bludgeon against the Chinese government, we should first unleash the potent weapon of truth. The Beijing leadership may be mindful of Chinese scholar Lao Tzu's philosophy: "People are difficult to govern when they have too much knowledge." Radio Free China offers an opportunity to provide truth and knowledge the Chinese people can use in their struggle for freedom and democracy.