Saturday, 2 November 2019

Soviet "active measures" against China — the story of Radio Ba Yi

This is a companion article to one I wrote in September 2019 about various clandestine radio stations that targeted communist China between the 1960s and the 1980s and were presumed to have been operated first by the CIA and then by Taiwan. 

The article below looks at other subversive broadcasts to China, this time from the USSR. 

"Active measures"

A document circulated within Nato in 1981 looked at "active measures" carried out by the Soviet Union "to complement its traditional diplomacy and weaken governments which are not subservient to direction from Moscow". It said: 
The Soviets use the term “active measures” (aktivnyye meropriyatiya) to refer to operations intended to provoke a policy effect, as distinct from espionage and counterintelligence. Soviet “active measures” include: written or oral disinformation; efforts to control the media in foreign countries; use of foreign communist parties and front organizations; clandestine radio broadcasting; economic coercion; political influence operations. 
On clandestine broadcasting, the document said: 
Presently the Soviet Union operates two clandestine radio stations: the National Voice of Iran and Radio Ba Yi, which broadcast on a regular basis from the Soviet Union to Iran and China. Soviet sponsorship of these stations has never been publicly acknowledged by Moscow, and the stations represent themselves as organs of authentic local “progressive” forces. The broadcasts of both stations are illustrative of the use of “active measures” activities in support of Soviet foreign policy goals. 
(In addition to the two stations named, elsewhere in the Soviet bloc East Germany was at that time, 1981, providing facilities for two clandestine radios broadcasting to Turkey. In earlier years there had been other stations engaged in subversive "active measures" targeting Nato various countries and transmitting from East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania.)

The document gave no further details of Radio Ba Yi, so here's my investigation into the station: 

Radio Ba Yi — one name, several translations

Radio Ba Yi (八一 电台  Ba Yi Diantai) was active between between 1979 and 1986. It was a fully "black" operation, seeking to hide completely its origin in the USSR. Its existence was never mentioned by the Soviet media. 

"Ba Yi" literally means "Eight One". It refers to 1st August, the official birthday (in 1927) of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). 

Radio Ba Yi is therefore referred to in various sources by its Chinese name, and as Radio Eight One, Radio 8.1, August First Radio and First August Radio

Start of broadcasts

Radio Ba Yi is an example of a clandestine broadcasting operation that began in reaction to a specific event. This was the Chinese invasion of Vietnam on 17 February 1979. 

The USSR was Vietnam's main political and military ally, and the launch of Radio Ba Yi was part of the Soviet response to the Chinese attack. 

Radio Ba Yi was first heard by radio monitors on 3 March, exactly a fortnight after the invasion. [1] 

The station's launch might have been hastily organised by the USSR after its Vietnamese ally was attacked, or there might already have been plans for such broadcasts just waiting to be implemented if and when the opportunity or necessity arose. 

Coordination with Vietnam?

While Moscow always kept silent about Radio Ba Yi, Hanoi did not. The state radio, Voice of Vietnam, reported on 10 March 1979 that Ba Yi had been heard the previous day and that it was operated by the PLA. [2] 

Voice of Vietnam also on subsequent occasions publicised Radio Ba Yi and quoted from it. 

Vietnam and the USSR may have coordinated over the launch. The Far Eastern Economic Review said in its edition of 4 May 1979: 
Since April 12, a monitoring station in Seoul has been picking up Mandarin language broadcasts believed to be originating from the Vladivostok area. But the broadcasters have pronounced Southeast Asian accents, leading to speculation that the Vietnamese may be cooperating with Soviets in operating the station, known as Ba Yi (August 1) Radio. 
Objectives and propaganda themes

In line with its "black" status, Radio Ba Yi posed as being run by the PLA as an underground outlet within China. It purported to speak on behalf of dissident members of the PLA. References to "our army" were frequent. 

The objective of the broadcasts was to stimulate dissent among members of the military and encourage ill feeling towards China's senior leadership. 

The New York Times reported in May 1984
The August First Radio and its companion stations try to sound patriotic, staunchly Communist, anti-Western and sympathetic to army gripes. They charge that Peking insulted the armed forces by giving the military last priority in the four modernizations, after industry, agriculture and science. 
Although it never declared its Soviet origins, Radio Ba Yi never contradicted official Soviet policies. It was strongly anti-American, also criticising US allies Japan and Taiwan. On occasions it called for improved Sino-Soviet relations. 

US analysts noted, however, that Ba Yi tried to avoid the appearance of close tactical coordination with official Soviet media. [3]

Targeting Deng Xiaoping 

A particular focus of the broadcasts was Deng Xiaoping, who emerged after the death of Chairman Mao in 1976 to become China's paramount leader. 

Deng Xiaoping, pictured while visiting President Jimmy Carter in January 1979, shortly before Radio Ba Yi was launched. The station made Deng its primary target for criticism

Deng began the reforms that led to the China we see today. And it was Deng's reforms, which threatened many established officials, that were a particular target of Radio Ba Yi

The New York Times article quoted above noted what it called the radio's "anti-Deng campaign": 
The broadcasts also articulate the resentments of hard-liners who have had to yield to Mr Deng's policies. They have accused him of creating a personality cult and letting degenerate Western values into China. The broadcasts have also attacked the party consolidation drive to weed out leftists and criminals from the rank-and-file. 
Similarly, an earlier analysis of the station's output by the US State Department said Deng was "a primary target of criticism": 
Radio Ba Yi's commentaries have condemned Deng for usurping power, violating the principles of collective leadership, damaging the army by transferring military leaders for his own selfish ends, and selling out China's national interests to the United States and Japan... For example, a January 14, 1980, commentary following US Secretary of Defense Harold Brown's visit to China declared that Sino-US relations had embarked on a path that encroached on Chinese sovereignty, damaged national pride, and threatened national security. It accused Deng of deciding "all by himself" to allow the United States to install and operate, with US intelligence personnel, an electronic "spy network" that would allow the United States to collect "secret intelligence" on China's economy and national defense. The people who agreed to such demands, the commentary concluded, if they did not deliberately wish to turn China into a US military base, were "suffering from senile decay". [4]
Propaganda techniques

The following are extracts from Radio Ba Yi broadcasts in 1982 that illustrate some of the techniques used to convey the station's propaganda: 

Hinting at, and stimulating, grievances among Communist Party officials (broadcast on 2 May 1982): 
In the past few months, facts have proved that the principle of reorganising the cadre component, insisted on by Comrade Deng Xiaoping, is incorrect. The principle of consolidating the party and reorganising the cadre component has not only damaged the situation of stability and unity which had emerged, but also dampened the enthusiasm of the broad masses of cadres in carrying out their work. What is worse is that many cadres, who are not veteran senior cadres, have openly expressed their lack of confidence in the party Central Committee. In past years, many cadres worked assiduously and conscientiously without giving a thought to personal gain. However, they have now gone so far as to study the "science of relationship". They have become anxious about making job arrangements for their own children and preparations for their own retirement. This is partly due to the wrong workstyle of these cadres. But on the other hand, isn't it the typical realistic attitude held by cadres towards the party Central Committee and leading comrades of the central authorities? Many veteran cadres, in particular, have become more and more dissatisfied with individual leaders of the central authorities.
Driving a wedge between army commanders and political leaders (broadcast on 1 November 1982): 
Particularly since the end of the 12th National Congress of the Communist Party of China [held in September 1982], some central leaders have again begun to transfer army leaders and purge army cadres. Moreover, they again treat army cadres with the tricks of those political movements, such as labelling people and using the big stick. They even use various excuses to remove army cadres from military command. What upsets the party cadres the most is that they are accused of being remnants of the Lin Biao clique. 
[Marshal Lin Biao died in a plane crash in 1971. The Chinese authorities said he had been attempting to flee the country after mounting an abortive coup against Chairman Mao.] 
Praise for the army, encouraging its resentment against the party leadership (broadcast on 4 November 1982): 
We can say that the army is second to none in contributing to the founding and construction of New China. However, over the past 30 years and more, many heroes and outstanding generals have been killed because of suspicion and jealousy. This reminds us of the ruthless first emperors of the Song and Ming Dynasties. High-ranking cadres such as Comrades Rao Shushi, Peng Dehuai and Huang Kecheng [see below] were brutally persecuted. Every few years, large numbers of marshals, ministers of national defence and leaders of various departments of the armed forces have been removed and replaced. Instead of improving, the situation actually worsened after the smashing of the Gang of Four [in October 1976]. 
[Rao Shushi was a senior communist leader, jailed in 1955. Peng Dehuai was a pro-Soviet defence minister, sacked in 1959. Huang Kecheng was an ally of Peng Dehuai.] 
Transmission techniques

Radio Ba Yi made a series of brief transmissions (sometimes as short as four minutes) each evening from 8 p.m. (Chinese time). The same tape was repeated several times in each evening's transmission. The number and duration of the transmissions varied from day to day. 

Initially, the exact transmission times varied, though later in 1979 they settled down to start on the hour and half-hour. 

From April 1981 the transmissions were made at 27 and 57 minutes past every hour during the evening. 

The brevity of the transmissions lent credibility to the idea that this was an underground station forced to keep its transmissions short to avoid detection by the Chinese authorities.

The station had two announcers. It seems that they sometimes took their annual leave at the same time, as the station was absent from the airwaves for a month or more in the summers of 1981, 1982 and 1985. Thus the Soviet habit, which persists in Russia today, of government activity coming to a halt in August, also affected its "active measures". 

(A CIA report, however, suggested that the interruption to broadcasts in the summer of 1985 was for political reasons as it coincided with "a period when negative commentary on the PRC in the Soviet media was substantially reduced".)

Transmission frequency: Throughout its life, Radio Ba Yi used a single shortwave frequency, 12120 kHz.

Evidence of Soviet origin

Direction-finding indicated that the transmitter was located in the Soviet Far East, possibly the Vladivostok area.

On 13 October 1982, presumably because of a switching error, the transmitter on Radio Ba Yi's frequency was heard at the relevant times relaying Soviet domestic radio's entertainment service Mayak.

End of broadcasts 

Radio Ba Yi was last heard in December 1986, a time when Moscow-Beijing relations were improving.

Another Soviet outlet - Red Flag Broadcasting Station

Another Soviet-operated station, Red Flag Broadcasting Station (红旗 广播电台  Hongqi Guangbo Diantai), was first heard in September 1971 and then rather intermittently over the next 15 years. It was inactive for much of 1974, for a time in 1977-78, and again in mid-1981, after which it returned with a stronger signal. 

Like Radio Ba Yi, it disappeared for good in late 1986. 

Red Flag was notable for broadcasting on the mediumwave (AM) band (on 995 kHz) rather than shortwave, which was the waveband used by nearly all other clandestine broadcasts to China. 

Like Ba Yi, it aired short transmissions (around 10 minutes) during the evening. 

Its transmissions were confirmed by direction-finding to originate from the Soviet Far East, possibly the Khabarovsk area. In 1988, a Japanese radio enthusiast recognised one of the presenters of the Chinese service of the Moscow-based Radio Station Peace and Progress as having previously been an announcer on the Red Flag Broadcasting Station

The Peace and Progress station was itself a "light-grey" example of Soviet "active measures". It was not a clandestine operation, as it routinely announced itself as "the voice of Soviet public opinion", but its broadcasts were more outspoken than those of the "official" Soviet external radio services.

Notes and sources

[1] The date of first reception is given in a detailed report on clandestine broadcasting to China by the Japan-based Asian Broadcasting Institute (ABI). Other information from that report has been used in this article. 

[2] As reported at the time by BBC Monitoring (whose archives have also supplied other details for this article). 

[3] and [4] Foreign Affairs Note (Communist Clandestine Broadcasting) issued by the US State Department in December 1982. 

© 2019. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.