Chinese officials have hired a US-based media firm to help promote China and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
Vippi Media signed a $300,000 deal to employ influencers to create content across TikTok, Instagram, and Twitch.
The contract comes amid complicated bilateral relations between the US and China over human rights issues.
The Chinese government is turning to social media influencers to help improve its tarnished image ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games next month in Beijing.
Vippi Media, a New Jersey-based firm, signed a $300,000 contract with the Chinese consulate general in New York to organize a social media campaign that promotes positive messaging about China and the Beijing Games on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitch.
The agreement, registered with the US Department of Justice, began in November and runs through March 2022, when the Winter Paralympics ends.
The contract comes as President Joe Biden and officials in Great Britain, Canada, and Australia declared a "diplomatic boycott" of the games in December to denounce China's record of human rights abuses, including the treatment of its Uyghur population of Turkic Muslims and the handling of tennis star Peng Shuai's accusations of sexual assault against a high-ranking Chinese official.
China continues to deny allegations of human rights abuses in its territories and people have expressed concern about the safety of US athletes competing in the games. Human rights organizations warned athletes they could face punishment for speaking out against the government while in China.
"There's really not much protection that we believe is going to be afforded to athletes," Rob Koehler, the director general of the Global Athlete group, said in a seminar on Tuesday. "We're advising athletes not to speak up. We want them to compete and use their voice when they get home."
China has spent more than a decade on media messaging efforts overseas, spending nearly $60 million in the US in 2020 and $23 million in 2021, according to Open Secrets, a DC-based organization that tracks money in American politics.
The Vippi Media agreement lays out a detailed social media strategy in which influencers will be tasked with producing three to five pieces of content for their target audiences. The influencers are divided into three tiers — "macro influencers," "mid-tier influencers," and "social publishers" — based on their number of followers and platform activity.
According to the contract, the Chinese government is requesting the posts be divided into 70% culture-related content — highlighting the history, cultural relics, modern life, and current trends in Beijing — 20% diplomatic content related to "cooperation and any good things in China-US relations." The remaining 10% of content will pertain to the news and trends from the consulate general.
Vipinder Jaswal, a former Fox News and HSBC executive who runs Vippi Media, told The Guardian he was well-aware of the controversies surrounding the Chinese government ahead of inking the deal.
"What we are trying to do is to simply highlight the integrity and dignity of the Olympics", he told The Guardian. "Boycotts don't help mutual understanding … I don't support boycotts. They are ineffective, irrelevant and inconsequential."
Jaswal told The Guardian his company has already received up to 50 pitches from influencers, including former Olympic athletes and entrepreneurs. As outlined in the contract, Jaswal plans to deliver a total of 3.4 million impressions across social media platforms frequented by younger demographics.
He also received a $210,000 advance after sealing the deal, according to the contract's documents.
In a response to request to comment from Insider, Jaswal reiterated and confirmed his statements made to The Guardian.
Still, the Vippi Media exec has faced criticism over the deal with the Chinese government. Earlier this month, Florida Senator Rick Scott sent a letter to Newsweek, where Jaswal serves as a contributor, asking the publication to reconsider its working relationship with Jaswal in light of China's human rights problems.
Newsweek has not publicly responded to the senator's letter. In a response to the letter, Jaswal called the senator's request 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 previously said in a statement.
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