Congress to request probe of China pressure on VOA; Rubio challenges budget cut

by WorldTribune Staff, June 15, 2017

Congress is “putting together a formal request” for an investigation into whether China pressured Voice of American (VOA) to cut off a live broadcast of an exiled Chinese businessman who has attempted to expose what he says is corruption in Beijing’s leadership.

The April 19 interview with Guo Wengui was cut off after an hour and 20 minutes and four employees, including the director of VOA’s Mandarin radio service, were suspended.

Guo Wengui interviewed by VOA. / YouTube screenshot via Voice of America

The four employees asked Congress in an open letter to investigate whether China pressured the Trump administration to call off the interview, the Washington Free Beacon reported on June 15.

During Senate testimony on June 13 by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, questioned VOA’s handling of the Guo interview.

Rubio also expressed concerns about the decision by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the group that runs U.S. government radio broadcasting, to cut $4.5 million from the pro-democracy Radio Free Asia (RFA), effectively ending its Mandarin language broadcasts into China.

Related: Trump takes heat over planned cuts to RFA broadcasts into China, June 13, 2017

In April, Guo began hosting a series of YouTube videos exposing what he said was corruption among senior Chinese leaders. The real estate tycoon had until recently maintained close ties to senior Chinese Community Party leaders, including ministers and members of the ruling Politburo, the Beacon report said.

“The Chinese government got very upset about this interview,” Rubio said. “They actually issued a red notice on Interpol to try to wrap him up and the like.”

“This interview was cut short,” he added. “The person who conducted the interview, Sasha Gong, who I believe was the head of the Mandarin radio broadcast, is on suspension. And now there’s this fight going on internally.”

Rubio asked Tillerson if the cut to RFA broadcasts and the canceling of the Guo interview are part of Trump administration efforts to improve relations with China.

“I can confirm that to my knowledge, it had nothing to do with our relations with China,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson was then asked if he would support an IG investigation into the dispute within VOA.

“I’d like a look at it, get a greater understanding myself,” he said. “But certainly, if it would seem that there’s been anything improperly done there, we should call for an investigation.”

“The concern is basically that we cannot allow geopolitical pressures from China to influence our ability to broadcast truth, and particularly in that language, in Mandarin,” Rubio said. “And so, obviously the we want to understand whether that’s what happened or not.”

Tillerson said he strongly agreed with Rubio.

A VOA spokeswoman referred questions about the IG probe to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which did not respond to requests for comment, the Beacon report said.

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