|China Radio Int'l set to air more Turkish content soon|
8 April 2012 / ABDULLAH BOZKURT, BEIJING
"I've sometimes been challenged trying to find exactly the right word to translate from Turkish into Chinese," recalled Wenjun Liu, a 37-year-old reporter working at the Turkish Broadcast Service of China Radio International (CRI) in Beijing.
"Thank God, we have Turkish native speakers working here to rush to our aid," she added.
Like many Chinese nationals who were assigned to work at the Turkish service, Liu has assumed a Turkish name for herself -- "Damla." She works at the world news desk and was working on a story about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to Iran in late March. Like many of her colleagues, Damla is a graduate of Beijing Foreign Studies University, a foreign language and international studies university in China.
CRI has been broadcasting in Turkish since October 1957 using the shortwave frequency. It has a one-hour-long program every day, repeated four times during the day in different time slots. It uses Internet broadband to spread the word and has also used local FM stations in İstanbul and Ankara to reach its audience since 2010. With unprecedented growing ties recently with Turkey, China is set to promote its culture in many areas, including broadcasting more Turkish content on the CRI.
Yongmin Xia, the director of the Turkish service, revealed to Sunday's Zaman that the CRI has decided to boost its presence in Turkey. Going by the Turkish name Murat, Xia said the CRI has chosen İstanbul, the largest city in Turkey, to launch a radio station. "We are going to start with five people and hope to reach 15 in this service in İstanbul," he said, adding that the stronger presence would help develop bilateral relations further.
"Our common values are more than the differences between the Turkish and Chinese peoples," he emphasized, pointing to a strong adherence to traditional values in both cultures. "Turks and Chinese share similar traits such as hospitality and warmth in human relations," he added.
There is no easy way to rate how popular the Turkish service at the CRI is since it airs in shortwave, but the managers at the CRI say they have some idea by looking at regular mail, e-mails and website impressions. "Our Turkish website has 600,000 clicks on a monthly basis," Xia explained. Overall, the CRI received more than 3 million letters from overseas listeners in 2011.
Xia remembers one of the interesting snail mails the CRI received from Turkey. "We were running a knowledge contest one time and received a letter from a Turkish listener who put the response in a 12-meter-long dragon-shaped paper. It was kind of surprising," he recalled.
Though the CRI is funded by the Chinese government, Xia says the staff is free to choose stories and decide on how to broadcast them. The general layout of the program was decided by the board of directors at the CRI, but the staff decided to pick which stories to air and also edit them. "The government does not dictate the contents of the broadcast," he explained.
The CRI, the country's only radio station with world service, was founded in 1941. The station today broadcasts in 61 languages and has 51 overseas bureaus. CRI programs include news, current affairs and features on politics, the economy, culture, science and technology. Xia speaks fluent Turkish and says he owes his language skills to the education he received in Turkey. He is an alumnus of the communications faculty at Ankara University. Graduating from university in 1994, Xia returned to Beijing to start working for the CRI Turkish service. "I am the most senior person in this service now but have some time to go before I retire," he explained.
The CRI has had a cooperative agreement with Turkey's state-run Turkish Radio and Television Broadcast Corporation (TRT) for the last 30 years. It swaps personnel working at the Voice of Turkey section of TRT. The CRI's Turkish service is staffed with 26 people in total with two of them Turkish citizens. They love Turkish songs. "I'm a fan of Pinhani," said Yin Ting Ting, a 30-year-old presenter and editor who goes by the Turkish nickname İlknur at the CRI. Pinhani is a Turkish soft-rock band formed by two cousins -- Sinan Kaynakçı and Zeynep Eylül Üçer.
At one point, the discussion with the CRI staff inevitably came to the riots in Xinjiang province in July 2009, with Uyghurs protesting what appeared to be the government's harsh policies just days after President Abdullah Gül's visit, leaving nearly 200 dead according to official Chinese data. Xia claimed that the separatist movement supported by foreign countries was at the core as to why events turned out to be so violent in Xinjiang province. He acknowledged, however, that the undercurrents have been there for many years -- the social and economic disparities impacting all the ethnic groups in Western provinces.
"Now the Chinese government has started to provide huge investments in these regions, including Xinjiang, to create an even distribution of income and job growth," he said, stressing that China is a developing country. From the benefit of hindsight, he said the government could have launched economic and social investment in these provinces earlier. "Nevertheless, the commitment is there, and ethnic diversity is a richness for China," Xia added.
According to Xia, the neighboring countries in Xinjiang province may have had a hand in the riots as well. "For so long, there has been a rivalry between China and Russia along the border in the Xinjiang region. It also borders Afghanistan. The Western powers have also supported separatist movements in the province," he explained.
The growing relations between Ankara and Beijing in the last decade have softened Beijing's security-oriented approach to solving problems faced by Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in the province, while the Turkish government has taken a hard line against any separatist and terrorist activities aimed at establishing an independent "East Turkistan" in the province.
Turkey's commitment to a "One China" policy and strong emphasis on the "territorial integrity and sovereignty of China" lifted relations to a "strategic partnership" in 2010. There have been high-level exchanges at the most senior leadership levels in recent years. The upcoming visit of Erdoğan, who is scheduled to depart for China on April 7, starting first with Xinjiang province, is expected to further promote bilateral ties between Turkey and China.
Xia noted that the 2009 events helped both Turkey and China realize that there has to be better communication between them. "It facilitated better relations and mutual understanding between the two countries," he pointed out.