BEIJING – Chinese Authorities arrested a government critic in the midst of a phone interview he was conducting with Voice of America, the U.S.-backed outlet announced Thursday.
“While details about this incident are still not confirmed, VOA is monitoring the situation closely and will provide an update to program viewers once more information becomes available,” VOA spokeswoman Bridget Serchak said in a statement.
Professor Wenguang Sun was discussing “throw-money diplomacy,” a derisive term for the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative to expand regional influence through infrastructure loans to neighboring countries.
He was participating in the Mandarin-language program just days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged that the U.S. government and American companies would offer alternative sources of infrastructure funding in the Indo-Pacific Region.
Sun’s detention attracted prompt attention from U.S. officials, in the midst of a controversy over President Trump’s use of “enemy of the people” as a label for American media.
“Every time you hear overblown rhetoric about how we are on the verge of ‘tyranny’ or ‘authoritarianism’ in America remember what real tyranny & authoritarianism looks like,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted. “In China the police arrested a Xi critic while he was in the middle of a live interview.”
Sun wrote an open letter criticizing Xi’s plan to expand infrastructure spending in Africa, following the autocrat’s recent trip to the continent.
“What? Did I say something wrong?” the professor could be heard saying when the police entered his house, according to VOA. “Did you hear I say anything wrong? So many Chinese are still poor, and we shouldn’t throw our money in Africa.”
VOA believes that he is under house arrest. “Subsequent efforts by VOA to re-engage with him for this interview have been unsuccessful,” Serchak said.
By Joel Gehrke