UK media is reporting that China is hiring western social media influencers to spread positive stories about China throughout next month’s Winter Olympics and Paralympics. According to a report in The Guardian, China has hired a a US-based Newsweek contributor and former Fox News and HSBC executive to execute an an influence campaign on the country’s behalf:
January 22, 2022 An army of western social media influencers, each with hundreds of thousands of followers on TikTok, Instagram or Twitch, is set to spread positive stories about China throughout next month’s Winter Olympics. Concerned about the international backlash against the Beijing Games amid a wave of diplomatic boycotts, the government has hired western PR professionals to spread an alternative narrative through social media. In November, as Joe Biden contemplated a diplomatic boycott, Vipinder Jaswal, a US-based Newsweek contributor and former Fox News and HSBC executive, signed a $300,000 contract with China’s consulate general in New York to “strategise and execute” an influencer campaign promoting the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics in the US. The contract, which has been registered with the US Department of Justice, lays out a detailed public relations strategy. According to the agreement, between 22 November and 13 March, when the Winter Paralympics end, each influencer will be asked to produce three to five “deliverables”, meaning content that is crafted to fit the targeted audience. Jaswal claims his company has received up to 50 pitches from influencers ranging from former Olympians to entrepreneurs. The contract states that 70% of the content will be culture-related, including Beijing’s history, cultural relics, modem life of people and new trends. Another 20% will highlight “cooperation and any good things in China-US relations”, including high-level bilateral changes and positive outcomes.
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The report notes that for more than a decade, China has been ramping up its overseas messaging effort through state-sponsored media outlets. In May, the Global Influence Operations Report reported that China had become the top spender on foreign influence operations in the US, with Chinese foreign agent spending skyrocketing from just over $10 million in 2016 to nearly $64 million in 2020. We have also reported that China’s US foreign influence operation budget is focused mainly on television broadcasting and other media activities.
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