China Plans to Pay American Influencers to Promote Beijing Olympics Amid Boycotts

Social media stars will also promote China-U.S. cooperation on issues like climate change

A visitor poses with the logos for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
December 13, 2021

China is paying American social media influencers to promote the Beijing Olympics and tout U.S.-China cooperation on climate change, according to government filings.

The Chinese consulate in New York City hired the public relations firm Vippi Media to run the influence campaign, according to disclosures filed with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. For $300,000, Vippi Media will hire prominent Instagram, TikTok, and Twitch users to tout the games and promote China-U.S. cooperation on issues like climate change, the contract says. The firm's founder, Vipp Jaswal, tells the Washington Free Beacon he has not yet chosen the influencers to be used for the campaign.

China is waging the social media blitz amid growing threats to boycott the games. The United States, Canada, and Australia this month announced a diplomatic boycott over China's human rights abuses and the recent disappearance of a Chinese tennis star who accused a Communist Party official of rape. Human rights groups have asked NBC and other TV broadcasters not to air the Beijing Olympics, which begin Feb. 4. American companies—Coca-Cola, Visa, Intel, and others—also face pressure to pull out of sponsorship deals for the games. Jaswal opposes the boycott, which he says would have "no impact" on China's behavior and will only "aggravate" Beijing.

The consulate's hiring of Vippi marks a new frontier for China's propaganda initiative, which has gone into overdrive in recent years amid growing scrutiny of its treatment of Uyghurs, its crackdown of pro-democracy groups, and its refusal to allow investigations into the origins of coronavirus. To repair its image, China's state-controlled media outlets, CGTN, China Daily, and Xinhua, have spent millions of dollars producing pro-China content for American audiences. The state-controlled media organs have paid millions more to American newspapers and magazines to publish pro-China propaganda in their print and online publications.

The consulate's contract with Vippi calls for the company to hire eight influencers to produce at least 24 posts about the Olympics, Beijing's history, and relations between the United States and China. Twenty percent of the content should focus on "cooperation and any good things in China-U.S. relations," the contract says.

China has taken other measures to shore up support for the games. Chinese vice foreign minister Xie Feng earlier this month urged American executives to "make a positive contribution" to the games, the Washington Post reported. Xie asserted that a boycott "harms the interests of athletes, violates the shared ideals and aspirations of the international society, and is unpopular."