There has been some talk about plans among China’s leaders to close down a number of foreign-language services – the German-language department among them -, at China Radio International (CRI), China’s international broadcaster. Keith Perron, a radio producer in Taiwan, claimed inside knowledge and suggested that, according to this quote by Glenn Hauser‘s World of Radio, March 26:
At last month’s meeting of the committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing, one of the subcommittees, headed by Zhang Dejiang, who is also chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, will form a twelve-member board to look into the effectiveness of shortwave as a [unreadable] platform for China Radio International. Members include leaders from various former ministries, including the [unreadable], culture, propaganda, SARFT, and the central committee.They may be looking at shortwave cuts made in Australia, Canada, Russia, UK, and the US. Last year the Chinese government spent over 600 mega Yuan on the shortwave, that’s about 100 mega dollars US. It includes not only CRI, but China National Radio [aka Chinese People’s Broadcasting Station, CPBS — JR]. They will be looking at staff reductions. CRI currently has a staff of 8,500. They are looking at reducing some 40 percent, closing several of their overseas bureaus, closing CRI Television, some CRI language services. Looked at for axing are: Tagalog, Polish, Greek, Italian, German, Esperanto, Kroatian, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Finnish, Bulgarian, and Danish. But English would be expanded, as would Chinese.
What struck me on December 31 last year – but it wouldn’t lead me to dramatic conclusions, of course – was that party secretary general and state chairman Xi Jinping had dropped CRI from his new-year’s address. The broadcaster was mentioned along with CPBS and CCTV by Xinhua’s introductory text, but not by Xi himself. Both Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin had made it a tradition to mention CRI, CPBS, and CCTV in their new year’s addresses – and CRI was always mentioned first.
To put the rumors about CRI into some perspective, though, Perron had been a critic of “waste” at CRI for some time, and understatment isn’t onw of his greatest hobbies. The Voice of America (VoA), for example, is a terminally ill patient, which might lead to the question who’s more dead – the American or the Chinese foreign broadcaster.
And Bernd Seiser, chairman of the Radio Taiwan International Ottenau Listeners’ Club, said in his April 10 club bulletin he had been told by CRI staff that
I can confirm that CRI will not terminate its German-language programs on shortwave.
However, listeners who wanted information on shortwave frequencies would need to enquire with the German department, rather than receive frequency notifications automatically by email, said Seiser.
So, how much truth is there in the rumors about closing the departments mentioned by Perron? That’s hard to tell. For one, it appears unlikely to me that CPPCC committee activities would go completely unreported inside China (which appears to be the case – I’ve seen no such report in the Chinese media). However, it wouldn’t appear exactly unlikely that China’s top cadres want CRI to become more effective. Three years ago, CRI German still ran a program dedicated to listeners’ letters and emails, but the feedback, as a rule, appeared to be embarrassingly low. Regular broadcasts of telephone interviews with German listeners weren’t a terribly reviving factor either. By now, feedback from the audience is interspersed into CRI Panorama, a magazine with a variety of topics, rather than featured in a dedicated program. An editorial staff of 31, according to CRI German’s website anyway, might be expected to draw a bigger crowed on the other side of the radio, too. (That said, there’s no information concerning their working hours.)
What seems highly unlikely to me is a closure of the German department. For the time being, Germany is an important “partner” for the Chinese leadership, in technological and partly in political terms. For one, both China and Germany try to defend their inveterately high trade surpluses against a growing international chorus of criticism. Even a small congregation of “early Christians” is probably worth being nurtured, from the CCP’s point of view.
Will shortwave be reduced? Maybe, but not necessarily. If the early Christians want shortwave, maybe their prayers will be heard. And jamming of foreign broadcasters like VoA, BBC, or All India Radio, will remain in place anyway. To avoid making it unnecessarily obvious, domestic CPBS stations at least will continue to be used as informal jammers in future, too, along with the “Firedrake”.
Does CRI make a big difference in Germany? Hardly so. What does make a big difference is Chinese financial and economic engagement in Germany, and Chinese interest in German products: sponsoring professorships, taking a stake in a new (and not yet used-to-capacity) German seaport, buying Volkswagen cars, etc.. China’s money has great leverage in Germany, even in German politics.
China’s public diplomacy remains a seedling here – but that’s probably no reason to dump CRI German.