Secretary of State Mike Pompeo honored pro-democracy protesters behind mass protests that ended with a Chinese military massacre in June 1989, even as a new generation of pro-democracy activists took to the streets in Hong Kong on Thursday to mark the crackdown.
Mr. Pompeo said protests in central Beijing’s Tiananmen Square helped set off events that ended the Soviet Union in 1991. Yet three decades years later, a dictatorial system run by Chinese remains in power, he said in a statement.
Mr. Pompeo, the most critical secretary of state on China in decades, met privately this week with four survivors of the crackdown that involved the use of People’s Liberation Army tanks and troops in attacks on the protesters.
China’s government has refused to disclosed details behind the massacre that killed hundreds and perhaps thousands of protesters, many died as the result of gunfire from Chinese troops and beneath PLA tank treads.
“While the Tiananmen protests inspired the oppressed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to demand and achieve democratic change, the Chinese communist government survived with oppressive control of information and sheer brutality,” Mr. Pompeo said.
The White House issued a statement calling on the Chinese government to respect human rights.
“The Chinese Communist Party’s slaughter of unarmed Chinese civilians was a tragedy that will not be forgotten,” the statement said.
“The United States calls on China to honor the memory of those who lost their lives and to provide a full accounting of those who were killed, detained, or remain missing in connection with the events surrounding the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989.”
In Hong Kong, pro-democracy protesters took to the street to mark the Tiananmen anniversary, defying police who refused to issue a permit for the annual candlelight vigil at Victoria Park.
Thousands of activists chanted slogans against the backdrop of a move by Beijing to impose tough new security laws and stifle dissent in the semi-autonomous former British colony.
Authorities cited health concerns in denying the rally permit, but most Hong Kongers saw the move as politically motivated.
“The Chinese Communists want us all to forget about what happened 31 years ago,” Wuer Kaixi, a former student leader who at one time was No. 2 on Beijing’s most-wanted list after the crackdown, told The Associated Press. “But it is the Chinese government themselves reminding the whole world that they are the same government … doing the same in Hong Kong.”
In Beijing, the square at the center of the massacre was quiet and largely empty as police and armored vehicles were deployed in apparent anticipation to respond to any protests. As in past years, Chinese security authorities put dissidents under house arrest and limited their communications.
Mr. Pompeo said the Chinese government continues to conceal accurate numbers of those who were killed in the massacre. “We reiterate our call for a full, public accounting of those killed or missing,” he said.
Within China, the anniversary is among the most censored topics on Chinese state-controlled media and social media outlets.
One group known as the Tiananmen Mothers has pressed the government to provide a full accounting of those killed and many others that were imprisoned in the aftermath.
The Communist government’s fears of popular opposition can be seen in how much is spent annually on police and security forces, including the large internal security force known as the People’s Armed Police. U.S. estimates of spending on internal security are said to be more than the entire budget for the PLA.
Hong Kong business leader and publisher Jimmy Lai tweeted a Bible verse quoting Jesus: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“#June 4th will one day be a memorial day for everyone to remember and honor the heroes who sacrificed themselves for freedom and justice,” said Mr. Lai, publisher of the pro-democracy Apple Daily news outlet.
Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng said the democratic movement in 1989 set as a goal the abolition of one-party dictatorship for the Chinese people.
“Although it was suppressed after a huge bloody sacrifice, it’s clear ideological goals are the direction of the Chinese people’s efforts in the future,” Mr. Wei said. “Today, the retrograde actions of the Chinese Communist regime at home and abroad are a manifestation that this deformed system cannot be sustained.”
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, and Rep. James P. McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, leaders of two bipartisan congressional China commissions, remembered the Tiananmen protesters.
“Sadly, the Chinese Communist Party dispersed these peaceful protesters by using military force in Tiananmen Square, crushing their peaceful demands for rights and reform,” the lawmakers said. “To this day, all commemoration and discussion of the protests and their violent repression are censored.”
— This article was based in part on wire service reports.