`Free Radio' For China

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AT a hearing in Washington last week, former ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick made a moving plea for the United States government to increase radio broadcasting to China and other communist countries in Asia.

There was no question, she said, that the US was a Pacific power, with significant interests in Asia. And radio, said Mrs. Kirkpatrick, was one of the most useful tools for democratization, and "one of the cheapest, safest, most effective tools of foreign policy."

Kirkpatrick was one of the last in a string of witnesses who have been testifying over the past six months before a commission, chaired by myself, set up to consider a new radio broadcasting service to China.

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The 11-person commission, appointed jointly by Congress and the president, is examining the "feasibility, effect, and implications ... of instituting a radio broadcasting service to the People's Republic of China, as well as to other communist countries in Asia, to promote the dissemination of information and ideas, with particular emphasis on developments within each of those nations." With the gathering of testimony at an end, the commission is now drafting its recommendations, which will be submitted jointly to the president and Congress by late August.

Like Kirkpatrick, most witnesses urged an increased stream of information from the outside world to China, where the governing regime controls the media. China, as a recent article in the London Economist reported, "has a terrible record on human rights. It holds 15 million people in labor camps and executes around 20,000 people each year."

While the journalists, government officials, academics, human rights workers, politicians, broadcasters, and others who testified generally agreed in principle that radio broadcasts to China should be stepped up, there was diversity of opinion about how this should be done, who should do it, and how it should be paid for.

Often these divisions echoed the differences in public opinion over American foreign policy toward China. Some, like the State Department and some businessmen, are anxious to protect and build upon the tenuous relationship that exists with the Beijing government despite concern about human rights abuses.

Some, like many in Congress, want a harder line, arguing that the US government has taken too cozy a position with a repressive regime. Still others want a carrot-and-stick approach - inducements to Chinese economic development, but punitive political signals to force social reforms.

There are two government-financed international broadcasters capable of broadcasting to China. One is the Voice of America (VOA), which broadcasts in a string of languages around the world, including Chinese. A division of the US Information Agency, VOA's mission is to tell America's story to the world. The other is the Board for International Broadcasting (BIB), which runs Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Radio Liberty (RL), broadcasting to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in their own languages. R FE and RL have a different mission from VOA, specializing in domestic or "home service" news - the kind of radio news a country would enjoy if it were free of government censorship.

VOA already broadcasts to China but has no experience in the kind of "surrogate" broadcasting developed by RFE and RL. It is responsive to the State Department for policy guidance. RFE and RL have the surrogate broadcasting expertise, but China and such countries as North Korea and Vietnam would be new territory for them. They get their money from Congress but respond to an oversight board of private citizens.

Legislation introduced in the Senate authorizes the new service to be modeled after RFE/RL and run by the BIB. Once the joint congressional/presidential commission has reported, congressional hearings will be held. Debate will be lively.

However it turns out, one way or another the Chinese people are likely to get a better flow of news about the world around them. The hope is that free radio can make the same contribution to the development of democracy in Asia as was the case in Eastern Europe.

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