On Tuesday, February 1, 2022, the FBI warned the 223 U.S. athletes traveling to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, to bring a burner phone because of the risk of cyber-attacks.
The day before that, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the threat from the Chinese state is more “brazen” and “damaging” than ever before.
With Wray’s comments in mind and tomorrow being the first day of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, Overwatch investigated the threat of China’s soft power for this brief. Soft power is when a country tries to influence another nation through less aggressive tactics, such as culturally, economically, politically, or through propaganda. Specifically, our analysts researched how the Chinese state is influencing narratives surrounding the Olympics in the U.S. and increasing its volume of propaganda in China.
Chinese Consulate in New York Pays 300K to U.S. Person to Push Pro-Beijing Message Ahead of Olympics and Paralympics
On December 10, 2021, Vipinder Jaswal registered Vippi Media, Inc. as a foreign agent working on behalf of the interests of the Chinese Consulate in New York. In Mr. Jaswal’s filing, the Statement of Work says that he will “develop a marketing campaign to promote the Beijing Winter Olympics” and reach out to influencers to “drive viewership, mass awareness, and premium content.”
The Chinese Consulate in New York agreed to pay Mr. Jaswal 300k for his services. Multiple media sources mention how Mr. Jaswal said he is “well aware” of the controversies with China surrounding Xinjiang (Where there is an ongoing genocide against Uyghur Muslims) and Hong Kong. Mr. Jaswal instead says the campaign’s objective is to “highlight the integrity and dignity of the Olympics.” Overwatch analysts note that there is no free or independent media in the Chinese state. Thus, any influencers Mr. Jaswal recruits will have to follow any narratives Beijing desires.
Further research into Mr. Jaswal shows he advocates for some of the Chinese state’s controversial policies. For example, in a video from the Chinese Consulate in New York, dated September 29, 2021, regarding the 72nd anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Jaswal refers to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a “world-class” infrastructure program.
A November 2020 report from the Office of the Secretary State disputes Mr. Jaswal’s claim, laying out how the Belt and Road Initiative is about expanding China’s soft power, not building developing nations.
The report reads, “The CCP uses the BRI as a means of drawing nations, particularly their political and economic elites, into Beijing’s political orbit. BRI infrastructure projects — ports, railroads, highways, dams, industrial parks, civil nuclear facilities and other energy related initiatives, and more — typically rely on imported Chinese workers rather than local labor, and sometimes involve 50–100-year business relationships that entrench China’s long-term access to local elites and confer power over the key parts of the host country’s critical infrastructure. Because of the heavy economic and environmental costs imposed by the CCP, host countries increasingly find these BRI projects unsustainable.”
Politically Extreme U.S. Websites Post Pro-CCP Messages Before the Olympics
On January 12, 2022, the website, Midwestern Marx, posted about the coming Olympics and how the ongoing Uyghur genocide in Xinjiang, China, is not a genocide. Midwestern Marx writer Caleb Maupin wrote, “The basis of the out[r]age for HRW [Human Rights Watch] is not real documented events but rumors that don’t match the facts. The claim that ‘genocide’ is being conducted against Uyghurs doesn’t add up. From 2010 to 2018, the Uygur population in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous region grew at a faster rate than the region’s population overall.”
Friends of Socialist China, a U.S.-based political organization with connections to professors at Tsinghua University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, posted a message of solidarity about the Beijing Olympics to its website on January 31, 2022.
Of note is how the message refers to human rights abuses in Xinjiang (Where the U.S. has said there is an ongoing genocide against Uyghur Muslims) as concocted. “A handful of imperialist countries have tried to instigate a so-called diplomatic boycott, concocting vicious and ridiculous slanders about human rights abuses in Xinjiang.”
Midwestern Marx has a significant social media reach with 376k followers on TikTok, 21.5k on Twitter, 1.4k on Facebook, and 21.1k on YouTube. Friends of Socialist China has a smaller online influence with 14.1k followers on Twitter, 2.6k followers on Facebook, and 6k subscribers on YouTube. Midwestern Marx and Friends of Socialist China are just two of many politically extreme websites promoting CCP narratives in the digital space.
Increase in Propaganda in Xinjiang
On February 1, 2022, a video titled: Together for a Shared Future was released by Kashgar County Government in Xinjiang. Kashgar is the second-largest city in the Xinjiang region. In the video, a mixture of Han Chinese and Uyghur Muslims are dancing and singing a song about a shared future.
Julie Millsap, an activist who has worked to stop the Uyghur Muslim genocide for several years, explained to Overwatch about the messaging of the video. Millsap said, “Beyond contributing to the propaganda narrative they are projecting to the world, many of these videos are specifically targeting the Chinese domestic audience. By throwing in a few typical English phrases in a catchy song about harmony and unity, they are emphasizing to the Chinese people the image that the Chinese authorities want them to buy: that China is a harmonious land where the different ethnic groups live ‘as tightly as the seeds of a pomegranate.’”
Throughout the Winter Olympics, the Chinese Communist Party will only show one side of the country, ignoring documented human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Additionally, the U.S. influencers will help expand the Chinese state’s “foreign influence” by promoting its narratives about the 2022 Winter Olympics. These influencers will be either paid by individuals like Mr. Jaswal or ideologically aligned with the views of the Chinese Communist Party, as are the Socialist Friends of China and Midwestern Marxism.
Propaganda from Xinjiang like the video from Kashgar will increase during the Winter Olympics. Other propaganda videos about Xinjiang will likely surface from Chinese-state media outlets like Xinhua, People’s Daily, Global Times, CGTN (China Global Television Network), CCTV (Central China Television), China News Service, and China Daily. In these videos, the Chinese Communist Party will aim to make life in Xinjiang look exciting and normal, despite the mass imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims in detention camps throughout the region.