hina has invited German football star Mesut Ozil to see the “real” Xinjiang following his Instagram post condemning conditions in the Muslim-majority region of northwest China.
“I don’t know if Mr. Özil has visited Xinjiang before, but he seems to be blindfolded by some fake news and his judgment was clouded by falsehoods,” declared Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Monday.
Shuang claimed that the Chinese government’s efforts in “fighting terrorism and maintaining stability” in Xinjiang are supported by the local populace and that the freedom of religion of Uighur Muslims is protected by the state.
“I want to tell Mr. Özil that Xinjiang enjoys political stability, economic growth, ethnic solidarity and social harmony, and residents there are leading a happy life,” he continued.
“We welcome Mr. Özil to visit Xinjiang and see the place with his own eyes. As long as he still has an unbiased mind and the conscience to tell the truth, he will see a Xinjiang different from what he thought it was.”
Seeing is believing. Mr. Özil is welcome to visit Xinjiang. He will find it different from what he thinks. pic.twitter.com/05dLtpSUUa
— Spokesperson发言人办公室 (@MFA_China) December 16, 2019
On Friday, Ozil, who is Muslim, became the most famous star to speak out on the issue of Xinjiang, sharing a post on Instagram backed with the flag of East Turkestan, a name for the region used by those who support independence and self-rule.
In the post, Ozil describes Uighurs as “warriors who resist persecution,” writing that in China “Qurans are burned, mosques were closed down, Islamic theological schools, madrasas were banned, religious scholars were killed one by one. Despite all this, Muslims stay quiet.”
As you would expect, the reaction to Ozil’s post in China has been harsh. Over the weekend, China’s state broadcaster removed an Arsenal vs Man City match from its schedule.
Arsenal is one of the most popular football clubs in China. Many Chinese netizens have demanded that the team cut Ozil or trade away. Fans have posted videos online of themselves burning Ozil’s jersey and the midfielder’s fan club on Baidu has been removed by its creator who declared that China’s “national interest” is more important than anything else.
It remains to be seen if this will all soon blow over or if it will turn into even more of a Daryl Morey situation. Earlier this year, the Houston Rockets GM got his team essentially blacklisted in China with a tweet supporting the Hong Kong protests.
Premier League football club @Arsenal FC should consider selling @MesutÖzil1088 and rebuilding the team in winter's transfer window to cut off its connection with the trouble maker and win back fans in China: Chinese soccer fans https://t.co/CwbrlAKXm5 pic.twitter.com/qnuXelCyLo
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) December 15, 2019
Despite condemnation from government and groups around the world, China has defended its detainment camps in Xinjiang, where more than a million Muslims have been held without trial, calling the camps “vocational training centers” and insisting that everything it does in the region is necessary for combatting terrorism.
Press visits to the camps are carefully planned and controlled but still manage to be extremely chilling.