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China 8 October 2004

Jacques Chirac, on visit to Beijing, taxed about sales of French equipment to jam foreign broadcasts into China

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) 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 9-10 October visit.

The international press freedom organisation said it had information that French company Thalès 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 antennas, known for their efficiency and sturdiness, set up by Thalès particularly in the city of Kashi, in the extreme north-west 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 scramble 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, north-west, and in Kunming in the south.

A Thalès 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. Thalès sold equipment to the Chinese authorities in 2001 and 2002.

Executives at the affected radio stations confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that Beijing has since 2001 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 thuds and music emanating from short wave transmitters, with a range of around 2,000 kilometres and from local ground-wave transmitters, sited around five kilometres around major cities.

The French government should draw the attention of national companies to the dangers of selling certain equipment to the Chinese authorities, the organisation 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 websites and emails.

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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