Sparks are flying ahead of the Winter Olympics after an eyebrow-raising deal with a US-based influencer was unearthed.
A media company in the US has come under scrutiny after inking a deal with the Chinese government to promote the nation’s image before the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics.
The $210,000 (AU$300,000) agreement, which was registered with the US Department of Justice, will run through to March 2022, using a number of online influencers to produce three to five pro-China pieces of content for their social media audiences.
The contract comes amid a growing push from Western powers, including the US, UK, Canada and Australia to declare a “diplomatic boycott” of the event to publicly denounce China‘s record of human rights abuses.
The reported persecution of the Uyghur population of Turkic Muslims has been a point of focus for politicians and human rights groups in the lead-up to the 2022 Games — and the more recent drama surrounding tennis star Peng Shuai’s accusations of sexual assault against a high-ranking Chinese official have only added to the country’s questionable image abroad.
Athletes travelling to Beijing next month have been warned by human rights organisations about raising their voices over political issues while in the country.
“There‘s really not much protection that we believe is going to be afforded to athletes,” director-general of Global Athlete group Rob Koehler said last week.
“We’re advising athletes not to speak up. We want them to compete and use their voice when they get home.”
The attempt at buying into an American company in a bid to repair public trust immediately drew criticism. However, for Vippi Media boss Vipinder Jaswal, the deal is purely to help build “mutual understanding”.
Speaking to the Guardian, Mr Jaswal, who is a former Fox News and HSBC executive, said he was strongly against boycotts despite being aware of the heat a deal with the Chinese government could bring on his corporation.
“What we are trying to do is to simply highlight the integrity and dignity of the Olympics”, he said.
“Boycotts don‘t help mutual understanding … I don’t support boycotts. They are ineffective, irrelevant and inconsequential.”
Mr Jaswal said the plan was to deliver a total of 3.4 million impressions for his client through talent based on TikTok, Twitch and Instagram.
Flordia Senator Rick Scott sent a letter to Newsweek’s CEO and Global Editor-in-Chief, Nancy Cooper, informing them that one of their contributors had become a “registered foreign agent of the People’s Republic of China”.
“In exchange for an upfront payment of $210,000, Mr. Jaswal has agreed to work with the Chinese Communist Party to identify American social media influencers who will promote the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing,” the letter reads.
“Mr. Jaswal presents himself as ‘The Voice of Outliers and Overcomers.’ If that were the case, he would be working to give a platform to the millions of Uyghur Muslims being persecuted by Communist China, or to Taiwan, our great partner in democracy which is under constant pressure by Communist China’s military movements.
“Instead, he has chosen to join forces with America’s enemy and one of the world’s most evil regimes as it actively commits genocide.”
Mr Jaswal dismissed the politician’s criticism as an “attempt at seeking senseless sensation”.
“I find his pretensions of endorsing righteousness quite breathtaking and the arrogance with which he projects his hypocrisies truly entertaining,” Jaswal said in a statement.
According to OpenSecrets, an organisation that attempts to track money spent lobbying in American politics, China has spent more than a decade focusing on “media messaging efforts” overseas.
According to the NGO, the Chinese government spent nearly $60 million (AU$83m) in the US in 2020 and $23 million (AU$32m) in 2021.
Originally published as China spends $300,000 on US influencers ahead of Beijing Olympics