Who is winning the Olympic PR war?


Who looks like the victim?
Image has been cropped – source

Today The New York Times published a piece titled Tibet Backers Show China Value of P.R. Excerpt:

As a result, the protesters have pulled off a publicity coup. Instead of basking in the glow of the coming games, China has quickly found itself on the defensive, and protesters have turned the subject from athletics in Beijing to the crackdown in Tibet, along with human-rights violations inside China and China’s investments in Sudan.

Such sentiments, often articulated with a tinge of schadenfreude, have been common on the opinion pages of Western newspapers in the last few weeks.

It is certainly true that China’s image may take a battering in the West because of the Olympics. But this should be balanced against three factors:

1. Domestic PR for the Chinese government

On ESWN, Roland Soong has translated a report in and a forum/blog post about Paris Olympic torchbearer Jin Jing (金晶). Ms Jin is the pretty one legged fencer from whom a thuggish demonstrator tried to grab the torch. Ms Jin was in a wheelchair and photos like the one reproduced here are all over the Internet.

Soong also comments:

There is a public relations disaster, but the question is for whom?

On one hand, the pro-Tibet protesters have managed to turn the Olympic torch processions in London and Paris into huge publicity stunts. They have gathered global media coverage for their cause.

On the other hand, it would appear that the Chinese Communists have reaped a huge publicity bonanza from the same incidents. How so? For the Chinese Communists, the responses from western government, media and citizens are immaterial. If German Chancellor Merkel won’t attend the Olympic opening ceremony, it only means tickets for some others who want to come. It won’t impact their existence. The paramount goal of the Chinese Communists is to retain control of China, and therefore it is the response from the Chinese citizens that matter. Thanks to the protests, the Chinese Communists may have consolidated support by its citizens for years to come…

…Faced with the beautiful heroine with one leg, how is any liberal dissidence on behalf of Tibet independence going to work inside Chinese? This was a bonanza handed to the Chinese Communists by the pro-Tibet protestors…

The online patriotic movement has only gathered strength since the ESWN post was published last week.

The Sina.com online petition to “oppose slitting the Motherland and support the Olympic torch” has gathered almost 2.5 million signatures as of today. Nationalistic forum websites like Tiexue (‘iron blood’) are predictably exploding with aggression. The Youtube video Tibet was, is and always will be part of China has been viewed more than 2.5 million times as of this writing, and the video Riot in Tibet: True face of western media (based on Anti-CNN.com) has been viewed more than 1.2 million times.

The Chinese government appears to be winning the user generated propaganda war.


No torch grabbers in Africa

2. Third World support

The image reproduced here is from a Xinhua story captioned thusly

Tanzanian Caroline Mbaga, a Coca-Cola franchise marketing manager, passes the Olympic flame to the next torchbearer in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, yesterday. Tanzania became the first Sub-Saharan country to host the Olympic torch relay.

Western countries are not the only ones China hopes to impress with the Olympics.

Tanzanians and Argentinians, whose countries the torch has just been through, were much less enthusiastic than Londoners, Parisians and San Franciscans when it comes to protesting for a free Tibet. The governments of China’s friends in South America, Asia and Africa are unlikely to boycott the Olympics, and any tickets thrown away by American senators will make nice little soft power gifts in Beijing’s diplomatic circles.

3. PR fallout for France

Online PR ‘disasters’ in China often look worse than they are. In the past, dozens of ‘boycott Japan’ campaigns don’t seem to have stopped any of the nations youth from buying Japanese digital cameras and other goods.

But the French brands named in this Tianya BBS post, a call to boycott French goods, can’t be too happy. That post is in Chinese, but it includes a collage of the logos of a range of French companies active in China, so you can see whom the boycott is targeting even if you are illiterate in Chinese. The brands include Carrefour, Louis Vuitton, BNP Paribas, Alacatel and Danone.

The post also includes a few Photoshop prank images, for example, the ‘Free Corsica’ flag reproduced below that incorporates an image of Carla Bruni, French President Sarkozy’s new wife, from a print that was recently sold at an auction In New York.


The Chinese slogan says “Independent Corsica needs our naked support”. At least the angry youth have a sense of humor.

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