Jennifer Lopez Distances Self from Turkmen Gig for China Oil Giant

Jennifer Lopez wouldn’t have let herself be retained by China’s state-owned oil giant to perform for Turkmenistan’s leader if she had known the nation’s human rights record, said the singer’s publicist.

Lopez had received $1.5 million plus travel expenses and accommodations from China National Petroleum Corporation to travel all the way to the nation’s Caspian Sea resort of Avasa to give a command performance on June 29 for Tukmenistan president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, including singing a personalized “Happy Birthday” to him. Berdimuhamedov turned 56 on Saturday.

The performance was part of CNPC’s effort at wooing the Turkmen leader to sign a huge natural gas deal. The ploy worked. Shortly after the performance a new long-term deal was signed to sell 25 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. The quantity is likely to grow to upwards of 65 billion cubic meters upon completion of the 1,139-mile pipeline from Central Asia to China.

Turkemistan, located to the west of China, is a bit bigger than California but has a population of just over 5 million. It’s of immense strategic importance, however, because it has one of the world’s biggest reserves of natural gas and is the leading exporter of the resource to China. The only problem, from a PR standpoint, is the nation’s poor human rights record. Turkmenistan is rated “one of the world’s most repressive” by Human Rights Watch.

Berdimuhamedov has eliminated all dissent in his nation by building up a North Korea-style personality cult around himself. He keeps his people isolated from the outside world through tight controls over the internet and the press.

The Lopez gig “underscores the lengths to which China’s oil-and-gas companies will go to curry favor in resource-rich locales,” said a recent Wall Street Journal piece. “But the sheer magnitude of CNPC’s overseas dealings means paying for a performance by Ms Lopez likely would be justified as long as it furthered company interests.”

Lopez’s publicist, at least, appears to be expressing seller’s remorse in the wake of criticism by human rights organizations.

“The event was vetted by her representatives,” said a statement. “Had there been knowledge of human-right issues of any kind, Jennifer would not have attended.” It added that the Happy Birthday song was performed after a last-minute request and that the concert was “not a government sponsored event or political in nature.”

This isn’t the first time Lopez has given command performances in nations with questionable human rights records. She earned $1 million by performing at the wedding of an Uzbek businessman in Ukraine and $1.4 million for another show for Azeri oligarch Telman Ismailov.

“I don’t like to talk politics, to be quite honest,” she said in response to an fan’s questions about the jailing of Pussy Riot before a pair of performances in Russia.