On the 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the United States has called on China to finally own up to what happened in Beijing on the night of June 4th, 1989.
“We join others in the international community in urging the Chinese government to make a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing; to release those who have been jailed for striving to keep the memory of Tiananmen Square alive; and to end the continued harassment of demonstration participants and their families,“ reads a brief statement released today by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“The ghosts of June 4th have not yet been laid to rest,” Pompeo writes, quoting Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo’s 2010 Nobel Peace Prize speech, a speech that he was unable to deliver, being locked up in prison on charges of “subverting state power.” Liu died last July of liver cancer, becoming the first Nobel Peace Prize laureate to die in custody since Nazi Germany.
Pompeo writes that the US government “remembers the tragic loss of innocent lives” that took place on the streets of China’s capital 29 years ago.
The Chinese government has never provided a full account of all the lives lost that night, with official estimates in the immediate aftermath ranging from zero to around 300. Meanwhile, various human rights groups and witnesses have put the number at between several hundred to several thousand people. Most of these deaths actually occurred outside of Tiananmen Square and the toll likely would have been higher had not Liu Xiaobo helped to talk the students into leaving the square as tanks and soldiers arrived.
Thousands of images of Tiananmen 1989 here [warning; some are graphic] https://t.co/vhTyjhSKsR I suspect I write this every year, but the thing that gets me is just how young and innocent those students were
— Jonathan Sullivan (@jonlsullivan) June 3, 2018
The June Fourth Incident (六四事件) remains a taboo topic in China and Pompeo’s words were met with inevitable outrage from China’s foreign ministry. “The U.S. Secretary of State has absolutely no qualifications to demand the Chinese government do anything,” said spokeswoman Hua Chunying who added that China had “long ago” reached a clear conclusion about those events and yet the US insists on “gratuitously” bringing it up each year, interfering in China’s internal affairs.
Meanwhile, Hu Xijin, the outspoken editor of the nationalistic tabloid the Global Times, tweeted a reflection in which he called Pompeo’s statement nothing more than a “meaningless stunt.”
“We don’t mention the incident any more so that the whole Chinese society can get out of the shadows and look into the future without being mired in arguments,” Hu writes, claiming that what happened on June 4th has “become a historical event that no longer haunts today’s China.”
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) June 4, 2018
On the other side of that argument is the Tiananmen Mothers, a group formed of individuals who had their family members killed on that bloody night. Once again, the group marked the anniversary with a letter calling on the Chinese government to make public all information about the crackdown and change its ruling of the protests, which are officially described as a “counterrevolutionary rebellion.”
“In the space of a single night, our loved ones all died along the length of Chang’an Boulevard, bringing untold pain and suffering that would last for the rest of our lives,” the letter reads. “The June
4 tragedy is history now, but this disaster remains unresolved, and its wounds have yet to heal.”
As usual, security has been especially strict on Tiananmen Square today. According to Reuters, foreigners had their passports checked by police at a checkpoint nearly a kilometer from the square while reporters were turned away and told not to hold any unapproved interviews on the subject.
Entryways to subway stop leading to the Tiananmen Square will be closed on June 3. This is the way the Chinese government commemorates the massacre. pic.twitter.com/R4xbiO5ZVT
— Yaqiu Wang 王亚秋 (@Yaqiu) June 1, 2018
At this time, tens of thousands are gathering in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park for an annual vigil that is the only large-scale public commemoration for those killed on June 4th to take place on Chinese soil.