Saturday, October 09, 2004

Complaints About French Jamming Deal in China

Combined rotatable antenna/transmitter system from Thales

On Friday, Reporters Without Borders signalled to Jacques Chirac that a French firm has sold China equipment to jam foreign broadcasts, as the French president headed to Beijing with a large business delegation for a visit this weekend. The international press freedom organization said it had information that French company Thales (formerly Thomson) had provided such equipment to the Chinese government.

"It is regrettable that a French company is involved in setting up a "great wall of sound" that violates the right of free access to information for hundreds of millions of people," it said. Alliss antennae, known for their efficiency and sturdiness, set up by Thales particularly in the city of Kashi, in the extreme northwest of the country, are used to jam programmes from Norway-based Voice of Tibet, BBC World Service, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

This installation in an isolated border zone allows the government to block short- wave radio broadcasts by international radio stations in Europe and Central Asia very effectively indeed, it said. There are understood to be around a dozen further sites of the same type, including on Hainan Island in the south, north of Nanjing in the east, at Urumqi, in the northwest, and in Kunming in the south.

A Thales representative in China told Reporters Without Borders that there was nothing in the contracts signed with the Chinese that specified the use of the equipment. Thales sold equipment to the Chinese authorities in 2001 and 2002.

Executives at the affected radio stations confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that, during the last three years, Beijing has boosted its capacity to jam broadcasts. Radio Free Asia for example has to broadcast on some dozen different frequencies.

They are nevertheless jammed by a double effect: the broadcast of a mix of noises and music emanating from short-wave transmitters, with a range of around 2,000 km and from local jamming transmitters, sited around five km outside major city centres. The French government should draw the attention of national companies to the dangers of selling certain equipment to the Chinese authorities, the organization said.

It would be a shame if French firms became auxiliaries of the Chinese Communist Party, as in the case of Italian Iveco vehicles, converted in China into mobile execution chambers. The same applies to routers sold to Beijing by Cisco to block thousands of web sites and e-mails.

Although a member of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), China systematically refuses to respond to complaints from the governments involved, as was the case when British Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell visited China in December 2003. Before him, the US public body the International Broadcasting Bureau, responsible for Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, laid a complaint with the ITU, that was rejected outright by Beijing.

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