Bang a Gong

April 20, 2011
By The Economist
In its foreign relations, China parades a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of others. It routinely vetoes UN resolutions on this ground (on Libya, it abstained). It boasts that unlike meddlesome Westerners it offers trade and aid without strings.

Yet in its pursuit of domestic enemies, China is making more demands of its neighbours. Inviting the Dalai Lama to visit has long been a no-no. The same goes for rebellious Uighurs. A group of 20 that fled to Cambodia in 2009 were handed back to China before they could claim political asylum.

Now the target is Falun Gong, a quasi-Buddhist sect that China banned in 1999. Apparently prodded by China, Vietnam and Indonesia have shut down Falun Gong-affiliated radio stations and prosecuted station operators, though neither country forbids the group. Two Vietnamese men arrested last year face up to five years in jail if found guilty of illegal broadcasting. Their trial had been due to begin on April 8th but was postponed. In Indonesia a station manager went on trial last month for a similar offence.

Both cases smack of interference by China. The Vietnamese legal indictment cites a May 2010 Chinese diplomatic request for joint action to stop short-wave transmissions into China by the accused pair, who were detained two weeks after the date of the memo. The indictment says their illegal broadcasts in Chinese had “negatively affected” political trust between the two governments.

Indonesia’s case is, if anything, more troubling, as it is a democracy with a free press. New Era Radio, the private station forced off-air, carried Chinese-language content—including reports of alleged human-rights abuse in China—provided by Sound of Hope, a radio network based in California. Sound of Hope claims to reach tens of millions of listeners in China, mostly via short-wave (Taiwan leases it airtime). It also broadcasts to overseas Chinese communities.

They have fewer sources of information these days. The cash-strapped BBC recently ended its World Service Mandarin-language short-wave broadcasts after 70 years. The World Service’s American equivalent, Voice of America, is due to do the same in October. China used to jam their broadcasts. Now it has found an arm’s-length way to keep out unwelcome news.


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