GT: You have visited Xinjiang many times. Based on your observations, can you tell us about the differences between what you saw in Xinjiang and the region in Western narratives? Why is the Western perception of Xinjiang full of lies and smears?
Geraci: I’ve been there a few times and I’ve talked to both members of the government and to common people. I have traveled around the region accompanied by officials, as it is normal given my role, but a lot more by myself and very freely, taking trains and taxis even close to the border with Pakistan. And I’ve noticed there is nothing different than other parts of China. The region has good development opportunities, especially in the fields of local food, green energy, wind and solar. It has the same economic and social potential as my home region in Italy, Sicily. Hence my strong interest in fostering closer cooperation.
I tell you the truth, if I hadn’t read the news, it would be impossible to feel that there is something different in Xinjiang than the rest of China. My sense is that the accusations of genocide are not true. The punishments on some individuals do not seem to be related to their ethnicity, or religion. Why should they? No one of the more critical analysts that I have spoken to has managed to answer this question satisfactorily. I believe the punishments are because people break the law. We know that the law in China is very strict, especially when general crime and political criticism coincide and some foreigners may not like it. But it has nothing to do with genocide or ad hoc targeting of certain minorities. Why should Uygurs be singled out in this campaign, while other minorities are not?
Xinjiang is a border region and border regions always face problems in many countries around the world. But I want to be clear: I have seen nothing that suggests that there are targeted measures against ethnic or religious group per se.
Why is the Western perception of Xinjiang so negative? When you have geopolitical frictions between countries, like the US and China have, you always try to pick on problems. It’s part of the narrative that some governments need to sell to their domestic audience. You need to do that for electoral reasons to create an external enemy that you want to fight so that the leader can be the hero who defeats the monster. I want to be honest: I am not even 100 percent sure that some Western leaders care really about the livelihoods of Uygurs, just like they don’t really care about those of Ukrainians. They are just fracture points in geopolitical games and innocent people are used as pawns.
GT: China and Europe have differences on human rights issues. To what extent will this affect China-EU relations? How do you see the EU following in the US footsteps to point fingers at China over human rights issues?
Geraci: I think many countries around the world have human rights issues in their own countries, some bigger than others. My answer is never to point fingers at others. I prefer to focus on the problems of my own country as we, too, have human rights problems in the West of a different type: we have freedom of speech, but we also have crime and violence especially toward women that go unpunished for political reasons or because some governments do not put the needed amount of resources into it. Children should have the right to go to school without fears of being shot dead just because the gun industry has strong lobbyists. So before addressing other countries’ problems, we need to solve our own.
We cannot preach what we do not practice. It’s fine that the issues are raised and that the West asks China about human rights. But it should be a question, not an answer. It should be used to bring the issues up, not used as accusation. The paradox is that we always say that our juridical system is more advanced than that of China and we are proud of the separation between juridical and legislative systems: well then, let’s have a court of justices issue sentences, not random members of parliaments or governments, let alone researchers or journalists…..