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Opinion

Newcastle United takeover – China, Concentration Camps, and Where the Premier League Went Wrong

3 weeks ago
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Let’s not talk about the Newcastle United takeover. For a minute. Please.

Let’s talk about something the Premier League doesn’t want us to talk about: Southampton and Wolves.

Let’s talk about their Chinese owners and the crimes against humanity the Premier League would like us to forget about.

The world is captivated by the plight of the Chinese Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority that inhabits the province of Xinjiang, on China’s western border.

Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party has been conducting a ruthless genocide of the Uyghur population. Rounding up Uyghurs and holding them in concentration camps, the Uyghurs are subject to the most horrid of human experiments. Firsthand accounts describe Uyghur women being given injections “until she stopped having her period, and kicked repeatedly in the lower stomach”, being “force-fed birth control pills” and “injected with fluids”. Most horrifyingly, an eyewitness account details Chinese authorities “inserting an electric vacuum into one woman’s womb and sucking her fetus out of her body.”

The genocide is being implemented thanks to significant activity by the People’s Armed Police (PAP). They are described as a “paramilitary force responsible for riots, disruptions, serious violent crimes, and terrorist attacks”. A report in the prominent American publication Foreign Policy stated that “the People’s Armed Police, not the army itself, is the sharp edge of daily repression on the mainland”. It later claimed that “the paramilitary PAP actually does much of the dirty work domestically in clamping down on internal dissent.”

How does any of this relate to the Premier League and the Newcastle United takeover in particular?

You should know about Mr. Gao Jisheng, the Chinese chairman of Southampton. A billionaire who made his fortune during the Chinese real-estate boom of the 1990s, Mr. Gao is himself a decorated veteran of the PAP. His penchant for lawlessness, doubtless a product of his PAP upbringing, is something he brought to England.

A South China Morning Post report from 2019 reveals something spectacularly slimy. In his pursuit of Southampton, Mr. Gao had prepared a bid for the club using his sport investment vehicle, Lander Sports. However, his bid was blocked. Mr. Gao failed the “fit and proper person” test. His paramilitary record was not at fault, but rather the multiple corruption cases leveled against him in China.

This did not deter Mr. Gao. Using a team of elite corporate lawyers, he registered “Lander UK” with Companies House in London, and hatched a scheme centering around his daughter, Nelly, to blatantly skirt Premier League oversight on his way to an 80% stake in Southampton for around £210 million.

This should flabbergast anyone following the Newcastle United takeover saga. What blatant disregard for institutional ethics.

Can you imagine if that was Newcastle? Someone on Mars would be able to hear the fit that the Guardian would throw.

Now, Wolves.

The majority stakeholder of Wolves is Chinese conglomerate Fosun International. Chaired by Guo Guangchang, one of China’s richest men, Fosun holds investments in sectors ranging from gold mining to luxury fashion. After being detained by Chinese authorities for conducting investments without government sanction, Mr. Guo remarked in 2018 that “Our overseas investments are approved by the Chinese government.” Michael Hirson, director of the Eurasia Group, said that his detention was a warning shot to show “how serious President Xi is about loyalty to him and his agenda.”

This setup carries an inherent risk: that any club activity at Wolves is directly related to the advancement of Chinese Communist Party policy. Fraser Howie, an expert on Chinese financial markets, stated that:

“When you’re dealing with Chinese companies, you have to be aware of the potential political pressures. The issue is how the deals are funded, and whether they fit into state aims and can be said to be benefiting the country.”

As for Newcastle? The Chinese government’s smorgasbord of deceptive, bloody, and corrupt activity makes Mohammed bin Salman look like Mother Teresa. Whether it be the construction and militarisation of artificial islands in the South China Sea or their crushing of the One Country-Two Systems mandate in Hong Kong, this corrupt regime’s aversion to any sort of ethical norm has no place in the game we love.

For Richard Masters and the Premier League, their complicity is damning.

The scrutiny of our prospective owners, both public and private, is important. But in their consideration of the Public Investment Fund’s takeover, the Premier League cannot claim any sort of moral pedestal without acknowledging a glaring double-standard on China.

If practitioners of genocide are allowed to run the clubs we love, why can’t the Saudis have their chance?

The days and weeks ahead contain many questions and few answers. But make no mistake: any rejection of this Newcastle United takeover will not be on any moral or ethical grounds. That ship has long since sailed. They can’t really think we’re that stupid.

Alexander St. Leger is a Newcastle fan from the United States and you can follow him on Twitter at @AlexStLeger

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