“#YearOfTheOx Happy Chinese New Year! May this year of the Ox bring you a prosperous and healthy 2021. Kiong Hee Huat Tsai! #China” — this tweet, dated 12 February 2021, is one of the first tweets by a brand new Twitter account — created in early February 2020 — that gained, within minutes, 11.9K engagement, and more recently, huge popularity in Pakistani media because of a tweet praising the ‘decency and kindness’ of Pakistani men towards women solo travellers.
The account shows the picture of a white blonde girl claiming to be a ‘sportsperson, tourist, eReader addict and blogger’, whose name is ‘Katherine George’. It took minutes for the Twitter and Instagram audiences to find out that the pictures posted by the 'traveller' were actually of a Polish girl working in Pakistan with a travel agency, and that this Katherine George did not exist at all.
Fake Bloggers & Western ‘Tourists’ Praising Pakistan
Is this the umpteenth fake blogger and traveller — praising the beauty of Pakistan on behalf of the DG-ISPR (DG of the media & public relations wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces) — like the famous squad of women ‘travellers’ set-up by the conspicuously absent DG, Asif Ghafoor? Not really.
Because, while social and official media were focussing on the tweets concerning the army, tourism and Pakistani men’s behaviour, almost nobody noticed something much more interesting.
Scrolling down Katherine George's timeline, in fact, was quite amusing. Besides the Chinese new year greetings and the praises for the Pakistani Army, three quarters of her tweets are actually about Balochistan and Gwadar, mostly retweets of an account called Gwadar Pro. Gwadar Pro is an app, available for both Google and Apple, launched in March 2019 during the 'Gwadar Expo', with the purpose of “linking Gwadar to the rest of the world” — after separating it from the rest of Balochistan. The app offers tools like an English-Chinese-Urdu translation service, air ticket services, hotel booking, exchange rates, etc.
But, above all, it offers a news service directly linked to State-run news agencies like China Economic Net and Xinhua Service, mainly focussed on Gwadar and the CPEC, and which constantly quote each others reports on every available platform.
How ‘Chinese Propaganda Machinery’ is ‘Aiding’ Pakistan’s Image Makeover
So, it’s very likely that Katherine’s account is part of a new strategy just launched by the Chinese propaganda machine: the ‘invention’ of journalists or travellers, preferably white women, spreading Beijing’s ‘truth’.
Another scandal in fact, around the same time, deflagrated in France. The infamous CGTN, that has just obtained authorisation from the Superior Audiovisual Council to broadcast in France, after being kicked out of the UK, published an interview with a French freelance journalist, Laurene Beaumond. An interview titled ‘My Xinjiang: Stop the Tyranny of Fake News’.
Beaumond who, according to CGTN, has two degrees from Sorbonne and a Masters in journalism, and has worked with all the major media in France and lived for at least seven years in Xijang, was very ‘straightforward’. ‘Has the world gone mad?’ she asked. ‘Concentration camps’, ‘sterilisation of women’, ‘forced labour’, ‘cultural erasure’, ‘genocide’... Where do these terms come from, which refer to the darkest hours in human history? So, what is this parody of a lawsuit being made against China from a distance, without any concrete proof, without any valid testimony, by individuals who have never set foot in this region of the world,’ she questioned.
Looks a lot like Beijing’s official propaganda? Because it is. Because Lauren Beaumond, like Katherine George, does not exist. There's no record of her in a single newsroom in France, journalists’ associations or at the Sorbonne. Madame Beaumond is part, like Ms George, of a titanic effort made by China to pass off their lies as the truth.
The principle is very simple: repeat a lie enough times from enough ‘different’ sides on any available platform, and it will become true.
Interestingly enough, the only other media platform to share the full text of Beaumond's 'interview' has been Defense.pk, a Pakistani media platform run by the army. The website has now deleted the interview.
In Beaumond's words, Xinjiang is an idyllic paradise where “People seemed happy and went about their small business, quietly. Muslims celebrate their worship as they wish and dress as they wish...Mosques, the Grand Bazaar, traditional Muslim crafts, everything is preserved and enhanced.”
When Lies Become the ‘Truth’
Beaumond is also very harsh on Western companies that stopped buying Uighur cotton: “Uighur forced labourers to collect cotton flowers in the fields? Are we still in the days of slavery in the United States? Fortunately, ridicule does not kill ...”. Katherine, in Pakistan, does the same with Gwadar: talking of “beautiful Balochistan, peaceful Balochistan” — while praising the new cricket stadium, the beaches and the mountains of the war-torn region.
She did not tweet about the licence procured by a Chinese company to brew beer in Balochistan, but this is not something the army wants to advertise.
And while China invents new western women bloggers and journalists, to spread their lies on traditional media and social media, the ‘big’ boys are on a (not so) diplomatic offensive in France and all over Europe.
After the EU passed sanctions (although very mild ones) against China for the treatment of Uighurs, the Chinese Ambassador in France, Lu Shaye, has been summoned because he insulted and threatened — on social media — Antoine Bondaz, the China expert at the Strategic research Foundation in Paris. And this is not the first time the Foreign Ministry had to call him out for his behaviour.
The fact is, the ‘wolf warrior’ is turning into a ‘mad wolf’ after the EU’s decision, and seems to think European press and public opinion can be manipulated like it is in Pakistan.
When this does not happen, the ‘wolf’ turns into a ‘monster’ and the human beings into ‘werewolves’. The battle of fake identities seems to have only just begun — go, grab your popcorn.
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. Her latest book is ‘Balochistan — Bruised, Battered and Bloodied’. She tweets at @francescam63. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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