Former Pentagon official's views on BBG and China are worth re-reading


Today’s Pentagon budget must expend billions to cope with new Chinese weapons systems. But we can fund outlets of freedom like VOA and RFA that can eventually reduce that threat by fostering political reform in China for a fraction of the cost.

— Joseph Bosco
Back in March, Joseph Bosco who served in the Defense Department as China country desk officer, wrote an opinion piece for Politico, Launch Twitter in China, in which he made a number of excellent arguments as to why the Broadcasting Board of Governors’decision to end Voice of America radio and TV broadcasts to China is a mistake. It is one of the best media pieces in defense of U.S. broadcasting to China.
“Television and radio,” wrote Bosco, “are still the most effective media to convey dramatic images and descriptions, as well as to provide in-depth discussion, of contemporary historic events. They are also the only contact with the outside world for the millions of Chinese without Internet access.” As China country desk officer at the Pentagon, Bosco participated in VOA’s and RFA’s Mandarin-language programs.
“I can attest to the value of sharing information and ideas directly with Chinese citizens, who want unfiltered communications with the outside world,” he wrote for Politico. In his first appearance on VOA, shortly after the 2001 EP-3 incident, when a Chinese fighter jet harassed and collided with a U.S. reconnaissance flight in international airspace, he told callers pertinent facts that the Chinese government had withheld in its distorted version of the event.
Like many critics of the BBG, Bosco does not deny the importance of new media. But because the Internet and social media sites are censored in China, Bosco — unlike BBG executives — has no illusions that the Internet delivery is enough or that it should be the only option.
Here are some of the points that the former Defense Department official made in his commentary. They are worth repeating as members of Congress are trying to block the BBG’s ill-conceived plan.

It turns out that China has had considerable success censoring the Internet, however. It blocked coverage of the Egyptian crisis, except for the scenes of chaos and violence. Within Egypt, the Mubarak regime managed to shut down the entire system.
Washington should not make Beijing’s task even easier by removing or limiting the most important uncensored communications tool available to Chinese citizens. New technologies should supplement, not supplant, traditional communications that are often more reliable and effective — and sometimes the only international link.

Joseph Bosco previously taught China-U.S. relations at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. He is now a national security consultant.