- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Obama administration Wednesday issued its harshest criticism of China’s human rights record since taking office, accusing Beijing of trying to “hide” the Tiananmen Square massacre on its 20th anniversary and demanding a “public accounting” of those killed and missing in the crackdown.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom activists accused of downplaying human rights during her visit to Beijing in February, called for the release of all of those still imprisoned for participating in the protests and for “dialogue” between the government and relatives of the victims.

“A China that has made enormous progress economically, and that is emerging to take its rightful place in global leadership, should examine openly the darker events of its past and provide a public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, both to learn and to heal,” Mrs. Clinton said in a statement.

In public remarks, however, she and other top administration officials had little to say. President Obama was in the Middle East, and Mrs. Clinton, just back from a Latin American summit, was flying to join the president in Cairo.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington had no immediate reaction to Mrs. Clinton’s remarks.

Visitors were allowed into Tiananmen Square on Thursday morning amid a heavy police presence. It was a contrast to the 10th anniversary of the crackdown, when the square was completely closed.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Beijing and other Chinese cities in the late spring of 1989 after the death of reformist leader Hu Yaobang. The demonstrations grew into the largest and loudest call for democracy in China since the founding of the communist government in 1949.

Chinese troops moved on demonstrators on the night of June 3, turning what witnesses described as a celebratory, almost carnival-style occasion into a night of horror.

As people in the square began dropping one by one, Chinese troops pursued fleeing demonstrators down side streets, killing hundreds, perhaps thousands. An iconic image of the time showed a young man trying to block a tank from advancing.

China says 241 people died and that it responded to restore order to the capital’s central square after weeks of chaotic protests. Chinese officials note the enormous strides the country has made in terms of economic progress and say that Chinese are far freer in terms of their individual lives than at any other time in 60 years.

However, the government still routinely arrests political dissidents and took no chances about protests on this year’s anniversary. Chinese authorities blanketed the streets surrounding Tiananmen with police vans, banned foreign reporters and photographers, blocked Twitter and other Internet services and sent police and paramilitary forces into the square.

“They are trying everything they can do to block information, to censor, to look for any potential threat,” said Wang Dan, a top student leader of the protests who spent seven years in jail.

But Mr. Wang said the Chinese government eventually will have to face the past.

“Technically, I don’t think they can achieve their goal completely. For example, even myself can have my personal blog inside China for almost half a year and the government never knew that. The government just recently shut me down, but I can use another fake name to open a new one,” Mr. Wang said at a seminar this week sponsored by the Heritage Foundation.

“We can have this continual fight; we can just keep fighting forever,” he said.

Fang Zheng, a 22-year-old athlete attending the Beijing College of Sports in 1989, lost both legs, which were crushed by a tank on the morning of June 4.

“The Chinese government always tries to cover up,” Mr. Fang told a rally Sunday in Hing Hay Park in Seattle, according to the Seattle Times. “We want to tell you the truth. Please don’t forget the truth.”

Mr. Fang, who was on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, told the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission that Tiananmen survivors have been mistreated in the past 20 years while the dead have been forgotten.

“I want to emphasize that many of you have seen the image of that tank man who was in front of that Chinese military tank, but not all of the people know that there are so many who just simply crushed and lost their lives,” Mr. Fang said, describing a scene about a half-mile from the square.

State Department officials said Mrs. Clinton’s statement was the strongest anniversary condemnation of Tiananmen in the past 19 years.

“This anniversary provides an opportunity for Chinese authorities to release from prison all those still serving sentences in connection with the events surrounding June 4, 1989,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We urge China to cease the harassment of participants in the demonstrations and begin dialogue with the family members of victims, including the Tiananmen mothers.

“We should remember the tragic loss of hundreds of innocent lives and reflect upon the meaning of the events that preceded that day.”

“We would prefer to see a China that’s prepared to learn from history, rather than trying to hide it,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley added. “It’s remarkable with some of the coverage that we’ve seen this week - how some elements of their population are roughly unfamiliar with what happened 20 years ago. This is inconsistent with the actions of a great power.”

Mr. Crowley said the administration will not “take a cookie-cutter approach to human rights” but will bring up the subject “as appropriate with every country with which we have those issues.”

Some China analysts praised Mrs. Clinton’s statement and said Beijing’s actions in the past several days show that, whatever economic and other freedoms the Chinese people may have, when it comes to political expression, the government remains repressive.

“Chinese society is much freer today by any accounting,” said Charles Freeman, chairman in Chinese studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That said, when the government sees political challenges, rather than preserve an environment in which those challenges can flourish, it tries to squash them. That’s not a sign of a particularly confident government.”

Other analysts were critical of the Obama administration, citing recent visits to China by top officials.

Mrs. Clinton raised many eyebrows during her trip to Beijing in February, when she said that, while human rights are important, they should not be allowed to “interfere” with other issues on which the U.S. and China work together, such as climate change and the global recession.

In Beijing this week, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner did not raise the subject of human rights, at least publicly.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in Beijing last month, also refused to discuss human rights in public. It was a reversal from the California Democrat’s high-profile stance on the issue during her political career.

Richard C. Kagan, a professor emeritus at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., who has lived in China and Taiwan and written extensively on human rights, said there is hypocrisy in the U.S. approach.

“We talk about the struggle for freedom and democracy but don’t say anything about China,” Mr. Kagan said. “Ironically, we won the Cold War without firing a shot. Now, China has won a second cold war, also without firing a shot. The Chinese system is not threatened by anybody.”

Mr. Kagan said he disagrees with those who argue that limiting U.S. criticism to private conversations with the Chinese can be more effective than public criticism.”

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