WASHINGTON -- The United States said Monday it had lost hope for human rights progress in China 30 years after the crackdown on Tiananmen Square as Beijing, in rare official comments on the bloodshed, insisted it had “immunized” itself against turmoil.
As China tried to impose a media blackout ahead of Tuesday’s anniversary of the 1989 assault on pro-democracy protesters, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saluted the “heroic protest movement,” which he said still stirred “the conscience of freedom-loving people around the world.”
“Over the decades that followed, the United States hoped that China’s integration into the international system would lead to a more open, tolerant society. Those hopes have been dashed,” Pompeo said.
“Today, Chinese citizens have been subjected to a new wave of abuses, especially in Xinjiang, where the Communist Party leadership is methodically attempting to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out the Islamic faith,” he said.
An estimated one million Uighurs have been placed in detention in Xinjiang, a massive incarceration that China describes as vocational training to reduce radicalism.
On June 4, 1989, Beijing’s communist rulers sent tanks and troops into Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of Chinese power, to crush a student-led movement that had been growing for seven weeks and featured a Goddess of Democracy statue that resembled the Statue of Liberty.
Hundreds of unarmed civilians, and possibly more than 1,000, were killed.
“We urge the Chinese government to make a full, public accounting of those killed or missing to give comfort to the many victims of this dark chapter of history,” Pompeo said, calling on China to “release all those held for seeking to exercise” fundamental rights and freedoms.
‘A political success’
With younger Chinese having no direct memories of the Tiananmen movement, Beijing has gone to exhaustive lengths to prevent commemorations, with authorities detaining activists and livestreaming services conspicuously down for “technical” reasons.
But in an unusual step, China acknowledged — and justified — the Tiananmen crackdown in remarks geared at foreign audiences.
The English edition of the state-run Global Times tabloid called the handling of Tiananmen and its aftermath “a political success.”
“As a vaccination for... Chinese society, the Tiananmen incident will greatly increase China’s immunity against any major political turmoil in the future,” it said in an editorial published Monday.
And Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, speaking Sunday at a regional forum in Singapore, defended the crackdown when he responded to an audience question.
“That incident was a political turbulence and the central government took measures to stop the turbulence which is a correct policy,” he said.
China’s economy has soared since Tiananmen to become the second largest in the world, with the United States under president Bill Clinton welcoming Beijing into the global trading order and hoping that rising prosperity would bring improvements in human rights.
President Donald Trump has voiced regret over China’s trajectory on economic grounds as well. He has slapped tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods and accused Beijing of rampant theft of US technology, setting off an accelerating trade battle.
The Trump administration has raised human rights repeatedly with China, although it treads much more lightly when addressing rights issues in US-allied countries.
Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the United States needed to look inward and be more consistent on human rights as it tackled China’s record.
“Unlike 30 years ago, when America stood with the brave Chinese people in the face of repression, we hear deafening silence from the White House at best and voices fanning the flames at worst,” Menendez told a Tiananmen commemoration event at the National Endowment for Democracy.