May 23, 2019

The Truth About China's PR Efforts

“In the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, with the torch relay soon set to pass through San Francisco, an envoy from China met with the city’s then-mayor, Gavin Newsom.

Riots had broken out the month before in Lhasa, Tibet, leading to a crackdown by Chinese security forces. The torch’s journey through London and Paris had been marred by anti-China protests and arrests. Pro-Tibet and pro-Uighur activists, among others, were planning demonstrations in San Francisco, the torch’s only U.S. stop.

Beijing was deeply concerned about damage to China’s image as its Olympic debut approached, and hoped to clamp down on dissent beyond the country’s borders. The envoy who met with Newsom demanded that he prohibit the demonstrations and, in effect, suspend the First Amendment, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive information. Newsom, now California’s governor, refused, according to the former official. (Newsom did not respond to a request for comment.)

So, in a series of covert and often coercive measures that have now become a hallmark of Beijing’s approach to image management, Chinese authorities took matters into their own hands. They orchestrated pro-Beijing demonstrations, deployed their own security, and made behind-the-scenes threats to activists, all while denying such measures—a strategy repeated across four continents along the torch relay.”

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