The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) must block the sale of a Mexican radio station over concerns the station will be used for Chinese information warfare, according to Sen. Ted Cruz.
Separately, a group of prominent U.S. scholars warned American universities that host Beijing-funded Confucius Institutes on campuses that the institutes are furthering Chinese influence operations.
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Cruz stated in a letter sent Tuesday to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that the commission should not approve the radio station deal because government regulations permit halting the sale of stations when there is anticipated "objectionable programming and harmful interference by foreign stations."
"The Chinese Communist Party (CPC) is waging an information warfare campaign to undermine American democracy," said Cruz (R., Texas).
"The decision before the commission risks allowing the CPC to broadcast government-approved propaganda into Southern California, one of the most densely populated regions in America of Mandarin speakers, to boost that warfare campaign."
The senator was responding to a report in the Washington Free Beacon revealing a plan by Phoenix TV, a Hong Kong-based broadcaster tied to the Chinese government and intelligence services, to purchase a large radio AM station near Tijuana, Mexico.
The FCC must approve the sale under a U.S.-Mexico agreement governing foreign broadcasts that reach the United States.
Cruz urged Pai to reject the application from the New York financial firm H&H Capital Partners to buy station XEWW-AM near Tijuana "given the unresolved and undisclosed details surrounding the application."
There are signs Phoenix TV is linked to radio deal, the senator said.
Cruz said the FCC application by H&H is misleading in stating that the buyers are U.S. nationals.
"Phoenix Satellite Television U.S. is a subsidiary of Beijing Phoenix TV, based in Hong Kong," the senator stated.
"The People's Republic of China (PRC) exerts control over Chinese media and the control extends to Phoenix," he added.
In 2009 testimony before the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Anne Marie-Brady, a fellow at the Wilson Center, revealed that Phoenix is "nominally privately owned" but that its main investor is the state-owned enterprise China Mobile.
As an example of the broadcaster's links to the government, Cruz noted that Phoenix in 2016 broadcast the forced confessions of five Hong Kong booksellers who had been kidnapped by Chinese authorities for violating Chinese censorship laws.
A Chinese-language broadcaster in Southern California, Chinese Sound of Oriental and West Heritage, initially filed an appeal with the FCC last month opposing the sale of XEWW to H&H.
Chinese Sound stated that Chinese broadcasts from Rosarita, Mexico, near Tijuana, by XEWW would harm the company that broadcasts in Chinese from KQEV, a low-power FM station.
Chinese Sound on Tuesday filed a rebuttal to an H&H statement to the FCC arguing that Phoenix Satellite TV is not a Chinese government propaganda outlet.
In response, Chinese Sound provided testimony to the FCC from a former Phoenix TV news director, Chung Pong.
"I know from personal experience that Phoenix TV's content is subject to the dictates of the leadership of the Central Communist Propaganda Department, Central Communist Overseas Propaganda Office, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which often directly sent instructions to Phoenix Satellite TV," Pong said in a statement included in an FCC filing.
The Party and government instructions "included directives to remove specific items of news that violated the ‘Party's news guidelines' or positively reported [on] the United States or events in the United States," he said.
Pong said he was fired from Phoenix in 2002 on instructions from then-Chinese leader Jiang Zemin.
In a statement to the FCC Aug. 29, lawyers for H&H argued that Chinese Sound had no legal basis to oppose the radio sale based on the economic impact.
The H&H filing dismissed concerns that XEWW would be used to deliver Chinese propaganda as "unfounded."
Also, the H&H filing accused Chinese Sound of "racial stereotyping" for asserting that H&H's managing director, Vivian Huo, will act as a Chinese agent because she was born in China.
However, the filing revealed that H&H and the current owner of XEWW, GLR Southern California "have signed a programming agreement with a U.S. affiliate of Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television."
That disclosure contradicts an assertion by Huo who told the Free Beacon in August that the deal to buy XEWW has "nothing to do with Phoenix."
The first indication the deal was linked to the Chinese broadcaster was contained in the FCC application that listed the location for the production of Chinese-language programing as the same address in Irwindale, Calif., as Phoenix Satellite TV.
On the Confucius Institutes, a group of 34 academics and human rights activists have sent letters to all U.S. universities urging a ban on the institutes that have been identified as vehicles for Chinese intelligence-gathering and influence operations.
"We write today as an informal group of organizations and individuals who are deeply concerned about the growing influence of the People’s Republic of China, particularly in American academic institutions, through the presence of Confucius Institutes," the June 8 letter states.
"Such influence threatens academic freedom, freedom of expression, and free inquiry—the cornerstones of American higher education."
The letter was sent to the leaders of 112 colleges and universities that host Confucius Institutes.
As of August, nine institutes were shut down, according to Rachelle Peterson of the National Association of Scholars.
They include institutes that were located at the University of Chicago, Penn State University, Pfeiffer University, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, the University of West Florida, Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, University of Iowa, and University of North Florida
Confucius Institutes operate on more than 100 college campuses and also conduct K-12 Confucius Classrooms that ostensibly are designed to promote Chinese language and culture.
However, the institutes, that also operate globally, are one element of China's large-scale propaganda and influence program run by the government education ministry and linked to a shadowy Communist Party organ known as the United Front Work Department.
The institutes have been able to affect American universities' policies and teachings about China. They also have been used as a rallying point for pro-communist students in opposing others on campus advocating for an end to Chinese human rights abuses and for democracy in China.
FBI Director Christopher Wray set off security concerns about the institutes in February when he revealed in congressional testimony that the FBI is investigating the use of the institutes as cover for spying and malign influence.
"We do share concerns about the Confucius Institutes," Wray said, noting that the institutes are "one of many tools that [the Chinese] take advantage of."
China has reduced its "enthusiasm and commitment" to the program "but it is something that we’re watching warily and, in certain instances, have developed appropriate investigative steps," Wray said.
The scholars stated in their letter the Confucius Institutes links to the Chinese government are "extremely disconcerting and, we believe, antithetical to American values."
"The Chinese Communist Party has openly acknowledged that the Confucius Institutes are a vital aspect of their overseas propaganda campaign," the letter says.
A report by the bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom urged designating China a "Country of Particular Concern (CPC)" over its repression of religious groups.
China, officially an atheist Communist state, is currently engaged in a major crackdown on religious groups that have operated covertly for decades.
The campaign has included destruction of unofficial Christian "house churches" through China and repression of Buddhists and Uighur Muslims in Tibet and western Xinjiang.
In Xinjiang, Chinese security forces have imprisoned up to 500,000 Uighurs in political re-education camps.
In Tibet, more than 140 Tibetans have burned themselves alive in recent years to protest Chinese repression there.
The anti-communist Chinese spiritual group Falun Gong also has been a target of severe repression.
"We venture that none of these important issues, which daily animate our work and are fundamental to human dignity, would be considered permissible topics for discussion at a Confucius Institute," the group letter says.
As a result of pressure from Congress, six U.S. universities have ended or are in the process of ending partnerships with Confucius Institutes.
The letter suggests that the Confucius Institutes on every campus open up their facilities for discussion of human rights and if they refuse "we request that you terminate the contract you have with them."
Among those who signed the letter are former Rep. Frank Wolf (R., Va.), Perry Link of the University of California, Riverside; Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars; and Victor H. Mair, of the University of Pennsylvania.
Other signers include Bob Fu, president of China Aid; June Teufel Dreyer of University of Miami; and Steven W. Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute.