WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic and Republican congressmen on Wednesday introduced a bill that aims to revive an arm of the old U.S. Cold War arsenal to improve understanding of China and potentially other strategic rivals of the United States.
The House bill introduced by Democratic Representatives Joaquin Castro and Bill Keating and Republicans Mike Gallagher and Brian Fitzpatrick would provide for the establishment of a federally funded Open Translation and Analysis Center (OTAC) focused on China.
It would be based on the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), which provided translation and analysis of Soviet bloc and other foreign government media during the Cold War.
The bill calls for funding of $80 million for fiscal 2022 and that same amount annually for each fiscal year through 2026 as well as “such sums as may be necessary for each fiscal year thereafter.”
A congressional aide said the aim was essentially to “recreate FBIS for at least” China, as well for other countries, depending on funding.
Referring to the acronyms of the People’s Republic of China and its ruling Communist Party and armed forces, the aide said OTAC would “systematically translate PRC/CCP/PLA speeches, documents, reports, strategies, news articles, commentaries, journal articles, procurement contracts into English and publish them freely online.”
Like FBIS, it would provide “crucial analysis on the PRC/CCP/PLA and annotations to help non-experts understand Party slogans, phrases, etc and the significance of the material based on the source and person,” he said.
Castro said that for the United States “to effectively both compete and cooperate with” countries like China and Russia it needed a better understanding of them.
“A nuanced understanding of foreign countries is impossible without reading how they communicate in their own languages,” he told Reuters.
The Biden administration has called China the “biggest geopolitical test” of this century and stressed the need to boost expertise about the country.
The media landscape in China has changed enormously since the Cold War heyday of FBIS and a huge expansion of information sources would make the monitoring envisaged by the bill a huge and costly task.
An enormous volume of translated material from China is already available freely online, but the OTAC bill envisages providing access via a single website.
The sponsors of the bill see the proposed center as a resource for U.S. and allied governments, as well as for academics, analysts and journalists.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by Grant McCool)