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Officials said internal Broadcasting Board of Governors surveys have shown the number of VOA listeners in China is greater than both Radio Free Asia and the British Broadcasting Corp. combined.

“During Uighur unrest in July 2009, VOA reporters were told by interviewees that the audience got their information via radio because there was no Internet access and phone lines were cut off,” the firstofficial said, referring to a pro-democracy uprising by a Turkic ethnic group in western Xinjiang province.

The plan to cut VOA China broadcasts follows the recent state visit to the United States by Chinese President Hu Jintao. Some officials say the VOA cuts were a concession to China to alleviate Beijing’s decades-long jamming of VOA radio signals.

“The ironic thing is that VOA’s shortwave broadcasts into China are much more difficult and labor-intensive to jam than VOA’s digital, social media and satellite broadcasts,” said John J. Tkacik Jr., a former State Department China specialist.

“The Egypt demonstrations were organized via text messaging and Facebook, but those media are very tightly monitored and censored in China,” he said. “So I’m not sure it makes much sense for VOA to divert all its efforts into social and digital media.”

Mr. Tkacik said the Broadcasting Board of Governors is cutting U.S. programs to the world’s largest potential market at a time when Beijing is expanding its propaganda footprint in the United States. It also comes as the BBC and Taiwanese government broadcasts to China are being cut.

Board spokeswoman Letitia King said the cuts are part of a budget review and that broadcasting would continue through Radio Free Asia. VOA’s China branch will focus solely on Web operations and mobile-phone operations, she said.

As for Internet blocking by China, Ms. King said, “We understand that China censors, and we are the leaders in anti-censorship and censorship circumvention.”

Board member S. Enders Wimbush said in an interview that the cuts were made after surveys showed a sharp decline in shortwave radio listeners in China, except in certain regions.

“That said, we’re perfectly aware that we want to maintain a shortwave foothold and what we’ve done is taken VOA frequencies and time slots and consolidated them into Radio Free Asia,” he said. “We haven’t stopped broadcasting to China, we’ve just recalibrated the broadcasts.”

The broadcasting board’s budget report, made public Monday, said the agency will save up to $8 million from its $767 million request by “realigning its transmission network and resources for broadcasts to China.”

“Research indicates that China has the second-largest number of Internet users in the world - trailing only the United States and, despite blocking by the Chinese government, many survey respondents access BBG websites through proxy servers,” the report said.

The cuts include the dismissal of 45 Chinese broadcasters, 38 from the Mandarin language service and all Cantonese broadcasters. The current staff in the Mandarin service is 69 people.

A third administration official involved in Asian radio broadcasts said shortwave radio remains an important tool to reach Asia’s information-deprived audiences.

In Tibet and western Xinjiang province, where ethnic Uighurs are opposing Chinese rule, “shortwave is a lifeline to those who are cut off from all but the official media,” this official said.

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