China scholar and journalist Dr. Willy Lam has written to the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) in support of continuing Voice of America (VOA) radio and television broadcasts in Cantonese and Mandarin to China. CUSIB is an independent nongovernmental organization which supports broadcasting and other media programs from the United States to countries practicing press censorship. The Obama Administration had tried earlier to end VOA broadcasting to China but reversed its decision following protests from members of the U.S. Congress, media freedom groups and human rights organizations.
In his letter to CUSIB, Dr. Lam writes that “Given the extreme unlikelihood that the Chinese Communist Party administration will lift its draconian censorship any time soon, stoppage or truncation of VOA’s Chinese-language services would be a blow to those interested in Chinese affairs both in and out of China.”
Dr. Lam stressed that the previously proposed ending of these broadcasts by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal U.S. agency which manages the Voice of America, would “also hurt American soft power at a time when President Obama is underscoring the imperative of the United States being ‘back in Asia’.”
The BBG has subsequently withdrawn its plan to end the broadcasts after members of the U.S. Congress from both parties voted to restore funding for VOA radio and TV programs to China. BBG executives claimed that they planned to invest in expanding VOA Chinese Internet programming. The Internet is heavily censored in China.
Dr. Lam, a former correspondent and editor for Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, is one of the world’s most authoritative China-Watchers. He left the newspaper in 2000 as the Chinese government intensified its censorship of the press. He has published several books on China, including Chinese Politics in the Hu Jintao Era.
Dr. Lam is currently a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Akita International University, Japan. He is also a Senior Fellow at Jamestown Foundation (www.jamestown.org), a leading foreign-policy think tank in Washington D.C.
January 1, 2012
Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting
Testimony in support of VOA’s Chinese-language Services
I write to support the unlimited continuation of the Chinese-language services of VOA.
As a college teacher of Chinese affairs and a regular commentator on Chinese politics for the international media, I find the reporting on VOA’s Chinese services essential for an adequate understanding of the fast-changing country. My friends in China in particular say they depend on VOA for information and analysis about their own country.
Given the extreme unlikelihood that the Chinese Communist Party administration will lift its draconian censorship any time soon, stoppage or truncation of VOA’s Chinese-language services would be a blow to those interested in Chinese affairs both in and out of China. It will also hurt American soft power at a time when President Obama is underscoring the imperative of the United States being “back in Asia.”
While a number of other media also provide Chinese-language broadcasts, it is my deeply held conviction that VOA’s long history and unrivalled networks in China, plus the unique talents of its dedicated staff, have rendered its Chinese-language services indispensable.
Even though the mood in Washington and elsewhere may be to cut government spending, it would be a mistake to disable a vehicle that has helped millions of people understand what many have called the world’s “next superpower.” VOA’s Chinese services have also served as a valuable cultural bridge between the U.S. and China even as they help to spread American and international norms among hundreds of thousands of Chinese intellectuals who are avid VOA fans.
Dr. Willy Wo-Lap Lam
Adjunct Professor of History & Political Economy,
Chinese University of Hong Kong;
Select Professor of China Studies,
Akita International University, Japan.