Monday, April 26, 2010

The Powers That Beijing


Yesterday's Post brought the occasionally tragic, occasionally hilarious "From China's Mouth to Texans' Ears," which documents Texan reaction to Chinese international broadcasting from a station in Galveston:

Cruise southeast out of Houston, past the NASA exits and toward the Gulf of Mexico, and you pick up something a little incongruous on the radio, amid country crooners, Rush Limbaugh, hip-hop and all the freewheeling clamor of the American airwaves.

"China Radio International," a voice intones. "This is Beyond Beijing."

Way, way beyond Beijing.

Sandwiched between a Spanish Christian network and a local sports station, broadcasting at 1540 on your AM dial, is KGBC of Galveston, wholly American-owned and -operated, but with content provided exclusively by a mammoth, state-owned broadcaster from the People's Republic of China.

Call it KPRC. Or as the locals quip: Keep Galveston Broadcasting Chinese.

The little Texas station may be modest, but it is part of a multibillion-dollar effort by the Chinese government to expand its influence around the world. As China rises as a global force, its leaders think that their country is routinely mischaracterized and misunderstood and that China needs to spread its point of view on everything from economics to art to counter the influence of the West.

Tragic because China is essentially using U.S. consumers' money to influence them (I know, I know, Hey Paul, enough already about Chinese economic dominance and trade surpluses) and hilarious because the PRC isn't exactly nimble about competing in the home of the First Amendment.

In their inimitable, Five Year Plan fashion, the powers that Beijing have decided to use coastal Texas as the springboard for achieving information dominance in the U.S. (What is it about superpowers wanting to influence oil-rich desert nations, which is how at least west Texans might characterize themselves?)

It's good to hear that someone besides the U.S. is having difficulty getting their foreign-influence story straight. Turns out that AM broadcasts from Galveston don't really reach metro Houston, which was the PRC's intention, and it also turns out that the tension between following the Party line in Beijing and reporting anything that anyone in the U.S. actually wants to hear is rather high, all of which sounds familiar to those who follow U.S. international broadcasting.

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