THE People's Republic of China and that international flag waver for the American way of life, Voice of America (VoA), do not make obvious bedfellows. China, along with distant cousin Cuba, is about the only country that still makes intermittent attempts at jamming VoA's shortwave signals. Still, the Government-run network, set up in 1942 to counter Nazi propaganda in Europe, believes it is spreading the Western bourgeois gospel to between 60 and 100 million listeners on the Chinese mainland. Beijing, like the other Marxist regimes that are still dotted around Asia, has learned to live with VoA. Indeed, compared to the new broadcasting threat to China's political status quo, VoA is a positive bosom pal. Ever since the United States announced a tentative plan two years ago to launch a pan-Asian version of the Cold War anti-Communist vehicle, Radio Free Europe, China has done more than voice occasional public objections. It is said that its representatives in Washington are barely off the phone asking ''friends'' inside VoA in whispered tones what they know about the progress of the planned station. That should not come as much of a surprise. VoA doesn't care for Radio Free Asia (RFA) much either. Last week, RFA's friends in the US Senate pushed through a measure which will set up the station - at the speediest by early next year - for an initial outlay of US$30 million (HK$232 million). Although a Congressional conference committee still needs toiron out differences in opinion over the project, it is now a safe bet China is not going to prevail over the will of American foreign policy. The station was originally designed to be based in California by its principal sponsor, Senator Joseph Biden, until costs appeared prohibitive. Now likely to come under one semi-Governmental umbrella in a tenuous link with VoA, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Liberty (which targeted the former Soviet Union), RFA will broadcast mother tongue news and information programmes not only to China, but also Vietnam, Burma, Laos, North Korea, and Cambodia. RFA has a lot of friends in the US Congress, but critics ask how it is going to get off the ground, not to mention in the air. A recent amendment moved by one sceptical senator obliges the Government to find transmitters before they spend a cent on staff. HOWEVER, China's looming presence has cast a shadow over the exercise, because no countries close enough to beam the shortwave signals into the mainland want to incur Beijing's wrath. Thailand, which already houses VoA transmitters, has rejected an American request on the RFA issue.T he Philippines, which also transmits VoA, might be a long-shot to carry RFA for its former mother country. But RFA sponsors, wary of the transmitter problem, have already started flirting with the idea of sharing VoA's equipment, which has got the veteran broadcaster hopping mad - especially when it looks like its own budget is being cut to help offset costs of the new kid on the block. The VoA survives China's irregular jamming attempts to send some 10 hours of Mandarin programming daily, plus Cantonese and Tibetan broadcasts. It also beams mother tongue shows into Vietnam and Burma. Some of these shows, including the respected China Focus, carry stories from inside the country - news that the people have no access to from official media. That, however, is the raison d'etre of RFA - the need to supply domestic news. VoA's argument is that it has been doing what it does well for 50 years, and that if meddling Washingtonians want to supply more inside news to hungry ears in Asia's repressive regimes, it would be simpler (and a lot cheaper) to do it by upgrading VoA. Its East Asia service has an approximate annual budget of US$12 million, while RFA has been granted US$22 million a year, and that's not even counting start-up costs. Under its love-hate relationship with Beijing, VoA is allowed to station correspondents inside the country, whereas it is certain the despised RFA would not. Quite how news-gathering will take place on the streets of Kunming has yet to be explained. America calling? As it stands, it is an idea barely audible among all the political static.