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Radio Free Asia: Background, Funding, and Policy Issues

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In response to some Asian countries' human rights violations and to promote democracy in countries such as China and North Korea, the Administration and the 103rd Congress agreed that the United States should increase broadcasting to this part of the world. The International Broadcasting Act of 1994, title III of the Foreign Relations Authorizations Act of 1994/95 (P.L. 103-236), created the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) under the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and authorized the Board to make grants available to conduct surrogate broadcasting services1 (referred to as Radio Free Asia or RFA) to the People's Republic of China, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, North Korea, Tibet, and Vietnam.

In 1997, lawmakers who opposed Beijing sought ways of promoting democracy and human rights in China other than through denying normal trade relation (NTR) trade benefits. One suggestion was to dramatically increase funds to expand Radio Free Asia and Voice of America (VOA) broadcasting into China. The Radio Free Asia Act of 1998 (title XXXIX, P.L. 105-261) authorized $22 million for broadcasting in FY1999, plus $8 million for one-time capital costs. Congress appropriated $22 million in FY1999 for RFA to expand its broadcasting to 24 hours a day into China and continue broadcasting into five other Asian target countries. For FY2000, the President’s budget request for RFA and the Senate appropriation (S. 1217) are $23 million. On October 1, 1999, as a result of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, the BBG will become an independent agency in order to maintain its journalistic integrity while the rest of USIA will merge into the Department of State.