How China Managed to Muffle the Voice of America
Last month I was scheduled to interview the Chinese real estate and investment tycoon Guo Wengui about his claims of extensive corruption in the Chinese Communist Party. Mr. Guo—who sometimes calls himself Miles Kwok —worked closely for years with Chinese intelligence services and says he even financed their operations. He has lived abroad since 2015 and granted me a live interview in his New York apartment.
In preparation for the April 19 segment, I did a 10-hour preinterview with Mr. Guo. My questions focused on his relationship with the Ministry of National Security, or Guo An. Like its Soviet counterpart, the KGB, Guo An has a fearsome reputation. Chinese citizens say it suppresses protests, harasses dissidents and monitors intellectuals. Using its vast fortune, Guo An has allegedly infiltrated overseas corporations, universities, civil groups and even foreign governments. In Washington, it’s an open secret among the ethnic Chinese community that the Chinese Embassy is an operational base of Guo An, which organizes events to spread its influence.
The money spent by Guo An is astronomical. Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer and human-rights activist who escaped to the U.S. a few years ago, estimates that the Chinese government spent $10.5 million spying on him alone. Mr. Guo says that a great deal of what the spy agency spends is bankrolled by private Chinese businessmen.
In the preinterview, Mr. Guo explained that he paid for office rentals, private jets, surveillance systems, personnel and many other expenses. In exchange, Guo An officials would assist him in dealing with his business rivals. He also said he was ordered by high-ranking Guo An officials to hire private investigators to dig up information on overseas properties owned by relatives of top Communist Party leaders. Mr. Guo said he believed that the majority, if not all, business tycoons in China had similar arrangement with Guo An.
Many of Guo An’s activities have been exposed and reported by the international media. But before Mr. Guo stepped forward, no businessman had dared utter a word on the subject of the private funding behind the spy agency.
Mr. Guo agreed to be interviewed by me and my colleagues in the Mandarin Service of the Voice of America, the international public broadcaster entirely funded by American taxpayers. On April 13, six days in advance, VOA began promoting the interview to audiences on all of its platforms. On April 17 the Chinese government issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Guo without making public any details of his alleged crimes. That same day, the Chinese Foreign Ministry summoned VOA’s Beijing correspondent and complained that the interview constituted interference in China’s internal affairs. Specifically, the Chinese said the interview would disturb the 19th Communist Party Congress, which is scheduled to be held later this year. The Chinese threatened to “respond seriously” if the interview went forward.
A few hours later, the VOA’s top management in Washington asked me to cancel the live interview. The next day, the Chinese government issued a “red notice” via Interpol seeking Mr. Guo’s arrest and extradition. Although he lives in New York, Mr. Guo holds a diplomatic passport issued by the United Arab Emirates. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson called him a criminal in several press conferences.
I’m not aware of another instance in the 75-year history of Voice of America in which a foreign government has attempted to intervene with such force in the network’s broadcast decisions. My colleagues and I argued our case in an hourlong meeting with VOA’s upper management, but no agreement was reached. After much back and forth, they allowed us to do the interview but ordered our producer to let it run no longer than 15 minutes.
Ultimately, we broadcast live with Mr. Guo for one hour and 19 minutes before Washington pulled the plug. This was not enough time to paint the elaborate picture he can provide of the most powerful police state in human history. Four colleagues and I were placed on administrative leave—suspended with pay.
Mr. Guo’s full story remains to be told. Reputable news organizations should not shrink from it for fear of reprisal by the Chinese secret police.
Ms. Gong is Voice of America’s Mandarin Service Chief.