Most Americans identify China as the country most likely to challenge the United States globally, and many even expect China to replace American dominance. U.S. lawmakers are finally waking up to the challenge, which is not only military and economic but extends to the spheres of information and public diplomacy. At least, some on Capitol Hill are determined make sure the United States faces the challenge and the Chinese government does not get away with brazen opportunism in our free and uncensored media environment.
Consider these numbers: China’s state media (whose news reporting blends seamlessly into intelligence gathering) was able to obtain 650 I-visas (international journalist visas) from the U.S. Department of State in 2010. By contrast, last year, the American government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) was able to obtain from China a grand total of two visas for Radio Free Asia and Voice of America’s (VOA) hard-working and much-harassed reporters.
Alarmed by this state of affairs, on September 13, Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R–CA), Randy Forbes (R–VA), and Ted Poe (R–TX) introduced H.R. 2899, the Chinese Media Reciprocity Act of 2011, as an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act. The idea behind the bill is straightforward: The Department of State would be able to issue only as many visas to Chinese state media workers as China issues visas to American journalists working for the BBG. Unless China changed its ways, some 30 days after the enactment of the bill, the State Department would have to revoke 648 of the Chinese I-visas.
Representative Rohrabacher has been busy on other fronts as well, working to ensure that the U.S. government does not disarm itself in the ongoing information competition with China. This summer he proposed an amendment to the State Department appropriations bill to protect the funding of VOA’s Mandarin and Cantonese radio and television services, which had been slated by the BBG for elimination by October 1 for budgetary reasons. The appropriations bill passed markup this summer and awaits action in the Senate.
The Chinese, meanwhile, have argued for a new world information order—something like a U.N. for media policy—as part of their soft power drive. Think of it as the “fairness doctrine” on a global scale to be administered by an international body, regulating the global media market. The head of the Xingua news agency, Li Congjun, wrote in a statement in The Wall Street Journal in June,
The rules governing the international media order lag behind the times, especially compared to changes in politics and economics. The gap is seen, first and foremost, in the extremely uneven pattern of international communication. The flow of information is basically one-way: from West to East, North to South, and from developed to developing countries.
The Chinese media advance in the United States—which ranges from acquisition of office and advertising space in Times Square to radio stations along the U.S.–Mexican border—represents a concerted government campaign to counter this perceived imbalance.
The real answer lies with the free market in information and ideas. Were the Chinese government to embrace the concept of truly free media, not only would China’s share of the global media increase exponentially, but Chinese reporters would undoubtedly be welcomed with open arms in the United States.