There are many people speaking about Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. This article isn’t going to discuss the reasons why there is a narrative on China’s Xinjiang Region or who the main players are but it is going to focus on two people:
One is Nathan Ruser — he’s world famous, working for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) as the man responsible for analysing satellite images of construction sites to decide if they are prisons or not.
The other is the writer, Jerry Grey — not so famous, just an ordinary man who happens to have a different opinion to the narrative.
Ruser is 22 years old, he studied Asian Studies at university and is described on his organisation’s webpage as a researcher. His biography gives no details of his qualifications or experience, it just describes him as an open-source researcher. He shot to fame in 2018 when NYT spoke of Ruser as a University student, taking a break in Thailand. He had stumbled upon an issue in a fitness App which allowed him to analyse military vulnerabilities through the App. At this time, he was quoted as saying: “I know about two-thirds of what I know about the world from the group chats,”. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/30/world/australia/strava-heat-map-student.html)
Jerry Grey is semi-retired, he’s 62 years old, a former Metropolitan police officer, with a Master’s degree in cross cultural change management. He was respected enough as a younger constable to have worked with the Royalty Protection Group and, during that time, met with and worked alongside almost every member of the Royal Family. After moving to Australia in 1987, he started working with a security company at the very bottom of the ladder. Commencing as a security officer and finishing 18 years later as the General Manager of a division of the same, multi-national company. Leaving that company, he decided to live in China, studied Chinese culture and achieved an MA.
Ruser, despite being touted as an expert on the situation in Xinjiang, has not been to China, has not visited Xinjiang nor has he any experience on the ground in that region. Jerry has lived in Southern China since 2004 and first visited Xinjiang in 2005, has been back several times since. He has cycled thousands of kilometres through Xinjiang, meeting, eating, staying, and interacting, with locals.
In his 14 years in China, Jerry spent a period of time working with the British Council travelling, with them to many different provinces and cities for short periods. As a consulting trainer, he’s also spent extended periods living and working in Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin and Hohhot, in Inner Mongolia.
Ruser works for an Australian “think tank” his organisation derives much of its income from the Australian government and other sponsors which, according to its own website, include many of the world’s greatest names in military hardware. Recent questions were asked by Senator Kim Carr in the Australian Parliament about funding to ASPI and ASPI acknowledged that, as well as receiving funds from the US Department of State they are also funded by the likes of Raytheon, BAE and Lockheed Martin, all part of the Military Industrial Complex.
Jerry’s entire income is derived from two sources: one is a very small pension provided by the British Police having served there for over 10 years. The other is from editing news articles and occasionally writing for Chinese news outlets. Often about his cycling tours in China (over 25,000 kilometres and counting) or about his experiences in Xinjiang. One of his main reasons for travelling to Xinjiang in 2014 and again in 2019, was to take part in sponsored bicycle rides to raise money for disabled people. In doing so, he’s met with disabled people in Xinjiang and talked about their life and difficulties there. At his personal expense, he’s travelled, by bicycle, from the border of Macau to the border of Kazakhstan in 2014, and did a reverse journey in 2019. In doing so has been part of a group that’s raised over 4 million RMB in charitable donations. He’s been awarded top charity awards for the city of Zhongshan and also by the Governor of Guangdong Province a Silver medal in 2014 and a Gold medal in 2018 for his contributions to charity in the region.
Jerry opened a Twitter account in 2015, but was inactive until 2020. At that time, he had 2 followers. Since March, 2020 this has built to over 11,000. He tweets about experiences in China and Chinese culture.
Ruser has 36,700 followers and is therefore, much more influential. His tweets often relate to Xinjiang, but are often personal attacks on people who question him or attempt to debunk him.
There have been many incidences of Ruser’s analysis being proven wrong. He recently posted a series of pictures of camps several of which have been shown to be no more than farms or even shopping centres and residential areas. Chinese people, and CGTN, on seeing his reports, immediately go to Baidu maps and find evidence to prove that not all the sites he claims are prisons
Jerry has been accused many times of lies, yet, to this day, not one person has produced any evidence to prove a lie. Attacks on his integrity are a daily part of life as the narrative on Xinjiang is wide.
So, readers need to make their own decisions. Who is the most likely person to believe: a person with limited qualifications, no experience, working for an organisation which, by its own admission receives its income and therefore his salary, from groups and organisations with an interest in an unstable world in order to profit to the tune of millions, if not billions of dollars?
Or, a proven reliable person with qualifications and experience, who has been to the region, travelled extensively within it met with locals and has no financial gain from speaking about what he saw?