Chinese Program Broadcast on Philippine State-Run Station Stirs Complaints

Jojo Rinoza and Jeoffrey Maitem
Manila and Cotabato, Philippines
2020-05-13
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200513-PH-CH-radio-620.jpg Philippine Sen. Risa Hontiveros speaks with fellow Sen. Antonio Trillanes during a hearing in Manila, Sept. 4, 2018.
AFP

Critics are slamming the Philippine government for allowing what they called Chinese propaganda to be aired on a state-run radio station at a time when the country is pushing back against Beijing’s expansionist moves in the South China Sea.

Wow China, a program that is a collaboration between the Philippine Broadcasting Service (PBS) and China Radio International, has been airing on Radyo Pilipinas since mid-2018.

“I am very disturbed. We have let Chinese propaganda reach our shores. They claimed the West Philippine Sea, and now our radio they will also claim?” said Sen. Risa Hontiveros, a member of the opposition, in a statement using the Philippine name for the South China Sea.

The broadcast of Wow China episodes has not been controversial for the most part, but caught the Philippine public’s attention lately after advertisements for the show made the rounds on social media.

China has been seeking to bolster its international image as it deflects blame for COVID-19, which has spread around the world and killed hundreds of thousands people, including more than 700 in the Philippines, critics said. The virus was detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Episodes of Wow China usually open with images of a red logo and China’s flag. Wow China bills itself as a “cultural program” meant to promote Chinese culture and history among Filipinos, including by giving them guided Mandarin lessons, according to one of the episodes.

A recent episode, which was also disseminated via Facebook, showcased China’s assistance to other countries in combating the coronavirus pandemic. It mentioned how Beijing had helped the Philippines by sending medical experts and donating face masks earlier on during the health crisis.

Last month, “Iisang Dagat (One Sea),” a music video released by the Chinese embassy in Manila, extolled the bilateral friendship and China’s partnership with the Philippines amid the pandemic, but it drew a backlash on social media.

“For me, this is a betrayal of the Filipino people. Our state media should always place Filipinos’ interests and welfare first. ‘Wow China’ should be cancelled immediately,” Hontiveros said Tuesday. “They should likewise be made to explain to Filipino taxpayers why it allowed the airing of Chinese state propaganda.”

Hontiveros filed a senate resolution two weeks ago urging Duterte’s government to “exert legal and diplomatic pressures” against Chinese activities in the contested South China Sea.

Rizal Giovanni Aportadera, director-general of PBS, shrugged off criticisms, saying the Chinese-sponsored program aired every weekend.

The PBS “recognizes constitutional freedoms and respects the views and sentiments of the public and the netizens – and their right to share these on their social media channels,” he said.

He called Wow China’s format light, informative and entertaining.

“In no way whatsoever does it espouse or promote a particular political view or cause,” he said.

Officials at the Chinese embassy in Manila were not immediately available for comment.

South China Sea claims

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam as well as Beijing’s rival, Taiwan, also have competing claims in the maritime region.

In early April, a Chinese coast guard ship rammed a Vietnamese fishing boat in the sea. A similar incident involving a Filipino boat occurred last year.

Manila recently filed two diplomatic protests against perceived aggressive moves by Beijing, including its recent declaration of two new administrative districts in the South China Sea. One of the protests was based on an incident where a Chinese military ship allegedly pointed a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship near the Philippine-occupied Rizal Reef in the Kalayaan Island Group.

On Wednesday, Rep. Ferdinand Gaite, a member of the opposition party-list group Bayan Muna, denounced the airing of Chinese propaganda and accused Beijing of continuing to disrespect Manila.

“We’re blasting Chinese propaganda on our radio, and they’re blasting Filipino fishermen off our waters and pointing guns at our navy,” Gaite said.

“On the one hand, the government radio station is busy promoting ‘better relations and friendship’ with China. On the other hand, the Chinese government is busy establishing its foothold on our islands in the West Philippine Sea,” Gaite said.

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