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Winter Olympics 2022: China recruits American influencers for Beijing Games

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Sparks are flying ahead of the Winter Olympics after an eyebrow-raising deal with a US-based influencer was unearthed.

China has turned to social media influencers to help clean up the country’s image as the Winter Olympics get underway in Beijing this week.

The build-up to the Games, which will unfold within a huge Covid-secure “closed loop”, has been overshadowed by controversies ranging from human rights concerns to Peng Shuai and warnings about snooping on competitors by the Chinese government.

Adopting the catchphrase “Together for a shared future”, China’s ruling Communist Party and the International Olympic Committee hope the rancour will be forgotten once the Games get into full swing.

Last month it was revealed the Chinese government paid $300,000 to US-based PR firm Vippi Media to enlist the help of influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers across platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

The 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 social media move comes after China secured a major win in the propaganda war, with 18-year-old skier Eileen Gu — born and raised in America — choosing to instead represent China at the Beijing Games, which she is eligible to do because her mother is Chinese.

Gu’s surprising decision has sparked waves in the Olympic world, with fellow athletes questioning why she would defect and asking if she was motivated by commercial opportunities.

The teenager — who is one of the faces of Victoria’s Secret, has been on the cover of Vogue and boasts nearly 250,000 Instagram followers — said she chose to represent China because the chance to “help inspire millions of young people where my mum was born … is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help promote the sport I love.”

China’s contract with Vippi Media 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 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 in January.

“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.

Florida 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”.

“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 read.

“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.

Read related topics:China



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