China Comes After America’s Airwaves

  June 8, 2016   Op-Ed Columns

Op-ed column originally published at

By Richard Berman

Would the federal government allow China to buy The New York Times? Or USA Today?

Probably not. But that’s not stopping China’s ruling Communist Party from making major inroads into U.S. media.

China Radio International, China’s state-owned radio broadcaster, which “sticks close to the Chinese government line,” is indirectly buying up U.S. radio stations across the country, including in cities like Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. While the Federal Communications Commission prohibits foreign governments or their representatives from holding a radio license for a U.S. broadcast station, CRI exploits a legal loophole by leasing airtime through subsidiary companies.

The firm buying America’s airtime is called G&E Studio Inc., which is 60 percent owned by a Beijing-based group known as Guoguang Century Media Consultancy. Guoguang, in turn, is wholly owned by a subsidiary of CRI—the Chinese government’s radio broadcaster. This business structure allows the government to bypass federal law and stealthily seize control of American airwaves.

What does this mean for radio coverage?

Just ask James Su, the president and CEO of G&E Studio. The Chinese businessman—who has appeared publicly with CRI head Wang Geng Nian—runs media companies that admittedly serve as “China’s outward media and advertising proxy.” Along these lines, he has been critical of American media’s coverage of Chinese human-rights violations, claiming it “engender(s) hostile emotions.” The Chinese businessman even publicly pledged to “endorse China’s ideology” in his business ventures.

And endorse it he does. WCRW-AM 1190—a Washington, D.C., radio station that leases virtually all of its airtime to G&E Studio for more than $720,000 a year—is one breeding ground. The station, whose towers can reach the U.S. Capitol, now churns out Chinese-scripted coverage.

One November 2015 segment, for example, highlighted a story explaining the Chinese government’s concern about Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s recent visit to the Asia-Pacific region. An August 2015 broadcast claimed that tensions in the South China Sea were due to unnamed “external forces” attempting “to insert themselves into this part of the world using false claims”—not China’s development and weaponization of artificial islands.

WCRW is not alone. Philadelphia-based WNWR-AM 1540 regularly broadcasts “erratic blasts of outdated or China-centric news,” including the Chinese government’s announcement of a 15-billion-yuan school spending program just last year. In fact, G&E Studio now controls airtime on at least 15 U.S. radio stations from Boston to Portland, Oregon. And “the news content on these stations takes a largely pro-Beijing line, including on the military tensions with the U.S. and its allies in the South China Sea,” according to a Fox News report.

To counteract pro-China propaganda, the federal government is not without options. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a little-known but influential federal inter-agency committee, has the power to review foreign acquisitions and mergers and recommend blocking them if they may pose a national security threat. The final authority to do so then rests with the president, who can turn CFIUS’ recommendation into real action via executive order.

Presidents have done so on two separate occasions. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush blocked the sale of a Seattle-based manufacturing company to a Chinese state-owned defense company, saying it “threaten(ed) to impair the national security” of the U.S. In 2012, President Obama cited similar concerns when he halted the Chinese Sany Group’s investments in wind farm projects bordering a U.S. Navy weapons facility.

Given China’s attempt to sway public opinion—and U.S. policymaking—President Obama should take action once again.

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