Beijing jamming Radio Australia
A growing electronic blitzkrieg by Beijing - blasted by Barack Obama as ''state sponsored'' hacking and now extending to the jamming of Australia's radio news broadcasts in Asia - threatens to derail delicate negotiations for the ABC to win television rights in China.
ABC managing director Mark Scott and chairman James Spigelman are expected in China next month to launch a major children's program co-production with Chinese state television. The trip is also another chance to lobby Chinese officials in long-frustrated efforts for the ABC to win access rights for television broadcasts in the 1.3 billion-strong market.
But the goal has been further complicated after China was accused of deliberately jamming Radio Australia broadcasts in Asia over recent weeks, a move that will also compound fears about Beijing's aggressive attempts to hack Western computer networks.
Mr Obama on Wednesday accused hackers of stealing billions of dollars in industrial secrets and singled out China for the toughest criticism to date over the issue.
''We've made it very clear to China and some other state actors that we expect them to follow international norms and abide by international rules. And we'll have some pretty tough talk with them. We already have,'' he said.
The jamming of Radio Australia - extending to the BBC World Service and the US Voice of America - is said to be the first time China has set out to disrupt English-language services in the region. The service has been blocked on several frequencies broadcasted from short-wave antennas in Singapore in what is seen as an overall crackdown by China to prevent access to foreign news.
The BBC has condemned the interference, saying it was ''designed to disrupt audiences' free access to news and information''. The claims follow evidence Chinese hackers penetrated New York Times computer systems over several months.
The BBC admitted it was impossible to pinpoint the source of the jamming but said the ''extensive and co-ordinated efforts are indicative of a well-resourced country such as China''.
The ABC has not itself drawn attention to the disruption but, asked on Thursday, a spokeswoman said the network strongly supported the free flow of information and objected to interference of any broadcasters' transmissions.
''While we have received reports of interference of our signal into China it is extremely difficult to identify or confirm the source of this interference and we will continue to monitor the situation as well as consult with partners in the region. No formal complaint has been lodged,'' she said.
The ABC also endorsed a statement made last week by the Association for International Broadcasting - a grouping of major global media organisations - claiming research by the broadcasters and independent monitors indicates the source of the jamming is within China. The organisation said it would lodge complaints with the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
China has long disrupted Mandarin-language services produced by foreign countries and refused overseas broadcasters what are known as landing rights for TV, including multiple bids by the ABC.
This is despite Chinese state media expanding their presence in Australian cities on radio and television with news broadcasts most analysts agree amount to little more than official propaganda.
La Trobe University political specialist James Leibold said Chinese authorities had always tried to control the flow of information into the country.
But he said extending the ban to English-language services probably reflected sensitivity during China's recent leadership transition.
Mr Scott and Mr Spigelman's trip to China is to launch a 52-part preschool program co-produced by the ABC and China's CCTV.
A spokeswoman for the Chinese embassy in Canberra did not respond to requests for comment.