Don’t junk critical leverage over Beijing — John Lenczowski on VOA in China

Silencing VOA programming would end U.S. support for China’s freedom.

John Lenczowski, who as President Reagan’s Soviet affairs adviser was instrumental in increasing funding for Voice of America and Radio Free Europe broadcasts to Poland during Solidarity’s struggle for democracy, wrote in a Washington Times op-ed that by proposing to end VOA radio and TV transmissions to China, the Broadcasting Board of Governors “is about to renounce the most powerful form of ‘soft power’ we have over China: our ability to inform, inspire and connect with the Chinese public – the ordinary people whom the regime fears more than anything else – and help the Chinese people communicate with one another.

“As China’s increasing economic, espionage and military might threaten ever-greater influence over the United States, why would we even consider junking our most cost-effective leverage over the future of Chinese policy?,” asks John Lenczowski. He argues that if permitted to stand, the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors‘ proposal to eliminate Voice of America shortwave radio and satellite TV broadcasts to the Chinese people will harm our national security posture.

Lenczowski counters BBG arguments by pointing out that Radio Free Asia has a different mission than VOA. “It, like Radio Free Europe, is designed to serve as a ‘surrogate domestic free press’ whose programming concerns developments within China itself – news and information suppressed by the communist regime.”

The VOA has a separate and equally important mission, writes Lenczowski. “It explains U.S. policy and helps foreign audiences understand America. Both missions are essential and cannot effectively be melded into a single station.”

Lenczowski also quotes Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s and Lech Walesa’s comments on the importance of U.S. broadcasts. The Russian dissident said they were “the mightiest weapon that the United States possesses to create mutual understanding between America and the oppressed Russian people.” The Solidarity trade union leader had this to say after he became the first democratically-elected Polish President since WWII when asked about the impact of U.S. broadcasts on the pro-democracy movement in communist-rulled Poland: “Would there be life on earth without the sun?”

John Lenczowski is president of the Institute of World Politics, an independent graduate school of national security and international affairs in Washington, D.C. He is author of “Full Spectrum Diplomacy and Grand Strategy” (Lexington Books, 2011).

Read John Lenczowski’s op-ed “Don’t junk critical leverage over Beijing” in The Washington Times.