New Aussie star of Chinese propaganda
A British-born Australian citizen living in China who describes claims of ethnic cleansing of Uighur Muslims as "baloney" has emerged as a new star in Chinese state propaganda.
Former London Metropolitan Police officer Jerry Grey, 62, lived in Australia for nearly 20 years working as a manager for Chubb Security in Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide before taking a redundancy.
He obtained a teaching certificate and planned to travel while teaching English. He arrived in China in 2004 but loved it so much he ended up staying after his contract finished, and soon found himself married.
Mr Grey now lives in Zhongshan in the southern province of Guangdong with his wife, Ann Liang Yuhua.
Last year, the couple bicycled through the troubled northwestern Xinjiang province - where the Chinese Communist Party is allegedly holding more than one million Uighurs in brutal "re-education camps" - on a charity ride.
"This is absolute rubbish - there are not a million Uighurs in concentration camps, that is just total baloney," Mr Grey told journalist Isobel Cockerell from online news site Coda earlier this month.
"The Uighurs that we spoke to didn't seem to have a problem. Remember, there are 11 to 12 million Uighurs there. There is absolutely no evidence, no real evidence, to suggest that one million of them are in camps."
Mr Grey's outspoken defence of the Chinese Communist Party comes at a time of rapidly rising tensions between Beijing and Canberra.
Australia and the US last month issued a joint statement expressing "deep concern" about China's "campaign of repression of Uighurs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, including mass detentions, forced labour, pervasive surveillance, restrictions on freedom of religion, and reports of forced abortions and involuntary birth control".
That prompted an angry response from the Chinese embassy in Australia, which said the assertions "disregard … basic facts".
Mr Grey told news.com.au anyone who doubted him should travel to Xinjiang and see for themselves.
"If anyone thinks I am telling a lie, please come over here and show me what it is that you see … to indicate this kind of treatment is going on," he said. "Because I didn't see it, I saw no evidence of it and, while I saw huge security presence, I was free to travel anywhere, take pictures of anything and had no restrictions placed on me."
That is not as easy as it sounds - foreign journalists have routinely described difficulties reporting from Xinjiang, including being surveilled and followed by authorities, and sources being arrested.
'THEY ARE NOT HIDING ANYTHING'
Mr Grey, as he tells it, was bored during COVID-19 lockdown earlier this year, so he decided to start a Twitter account to share his first-hand experiences and push back on Western media portrayals of the region.
Naturally, he soon attracted the attention of Chinese media.
In an interview with the Global Times in June, Mr Grey said while he encountered heavy security and police checkpoints in Xinjiang, he saw no evidence of camps.
"I'm realistic enough to know that the military, the police, the government, they have a reason for putting people in prison," he said.
"If somebody bombs civilians, if somebody wants to put a bomb outside the police station, that person deserves to be in prison. That's all the reason to it in my opinion."
In that profile, which is still featured prominently on the website of the Communist Party mouthpiece under the headline "Australian offers candid observation of Xinjiang distinct from Western characterisations", he also pushed back on claims that the Uighur culture and language is being systematically wiped out.
"We went to a restaurant, where they had dancers," he said. "This was not a tourist restaurant - this was just a normal restaurant. They sing and they dance. That's what Uighurs tend to do when they are having fun."
He added, "I heard and saw the language is very much alive. People speak their local language. And every shop, every menu, every restaurant has their local language written there, so when I read that the local language was being destroyed, I disagree with that."
Mr Grey told the Global Times he was never stopped from going anywhere.
"No policeman has ever said to me, 'Can I see your camera, can I see what pictures you've got?'" he said.
"In other words, they are not afraid of me taking photographs of anything that I see. If they were afraid, they would stop me going there first - if I did go there without permission, they would want to see my photographs, nobody ever did. That tells they are not trying to hide anything."
He has also appeared on the state-run China Global Television Network to offer similar observations.
In a post on the Medium website, Mr Grey said he was not paid for either interview and denied he was "some sort of government-sponsored employee".
In interviews and online posts he has argued that allegations of Uighur repression largely come from three sources - German researcher and "religious zealot" Adrian Zenz, "Chinese dissident criminals" living overseas, and satellite imagery analysis conducted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank.
The latter, he claims, is untrustworthy because it draws funding from weapons manufacturers like Lockheed-Martin.
Unhappy at what he claimed was Cockerell's unfair portrayal of his views in the article she published headlined "Pro-Beijing influencers and their rose-tinted view of life in Xinjiang", Mr Grey asked that another subject of the article upload the full interview to his YouTube channel.
"I have no doubt whatsoever there are problems in Xinjiang, but there are problems in every single country that has terrorism," he tells Cockerell at one point in the 50-minute conversation.
"How does the Chinese government handle it, how does the American government handle it? The American government goes out, drops bombs and shoots people - the Chinese government locks them up and educates them. Honestly, which is a better way?"
Asked about disturbing drone footage of blindfolded and shackled prisoners being loaded onto trains, Mr Grey told news.com.au when he was a police officer "we moved prisoners all the time, discipline is strong when you do it".
"I agree China is very tough on prisoners - if we see an arrest in the street, which is rare, but I've seen a few, the prisoners are always handcuffed, always told to squat until transportation arrives - normality in China isn't the same normality in the West," he said.
"I have absolutely no doubt there are prisoners, there are prisons and there are people in them who shouldn't be there in Xinjiang. But I also know that there is no longer a threat of death on a public bus, or catching a train, which was quite common before the lockdowns."
He added, "Xinjiang looks good. Safe, secure and all the people I spoke with seem happy about it."
Originally published as New Aussie star of Chinese propaganda