Inside a radio recording booth, the digital clock flashes red: 11:00:00 ... 11:00:01 ... 11:00:02 ... Wang Dan, one of China's most famous dissidents, is ready to tell the world about his imprisonment and recent release.
His words, spoken into a New York City microphone at mid-morning, are fed through a state-of-the-art studio in Washington for broadcast live via satellite to the Chinese half a world away, waiting in the dark of night."You are listening to Radio Free Asia," a voice booms, beginning the feed in English before breaking into Mandarin to report the news.
High-ranking Chinese officials are visiting Japan. A Taiwan official has opened talks with the Chinese. Exiled Tibetans are continuing a hunger strike, then in its second month in New Delhi.
"This is straight news," Daniel Southerland, executive editor of Radio Free Asia, whispers to a visitor. The former foreign correspondent for The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor - he covered the Tiananmen Square massacre as the Post's Beijing bureau chief in 1989 - insists the broadcasts include no U.S. propaganda or point of view.
At 11:07:04, Wang, leader of the Tiananmen student democracy move-ment, begins his first extended public remarks since spending nearly a decade in prison. A broadcast editing machine monitors his voice like a beating heart, sound waves spiking with each word on its way to China.
"Today, as I speak at this spot in one of the freest cities on Earth, I feel a special duty to speak for the courageous people who remain trapped inside some of the least free spots in the whole world - the cells of the Chinese prison system," says Wang, 29.