China on Tuesday defended its army’s action at the Tiananmen Square three decades ago and lodged a diplomatic protest with the US for calling for public accountability, amid calls for introspection of the mass shooting which left a deep scar on the psyche of the Communist nation.
The Foreign Ministry’s furious response came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s call for public accountability of the June 4, 1989 massacre.
Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters are believed to have been killed on June 4, 1989 in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched a brutal crackdown on those demonstrating against the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC).
The US has asked China to make a full public accounting of those killed and missing in the Tiananmen Square massacre even as it alleged that the Chinese citizens are being subjected to a new wave of abuses, especially in the Muslim-majority Xinjiang province.
Noting that the event 30 years ago still stirs the conscience of freedom-loving people around the world, Pompeo said that over the decades that followed, the US hoped that China’s integration into the international system would lead to a more open, tolerant society.
He called on China to release all those held for seeking to exercise these rights and freedom, halt the use of arbitrary detention, and reverse counterproductive policies that conflate terrorism with religious and political expression.
“China firmly rejects the allegations and has lodged a firm representation with the US. Some in the US are so used to lecturing others on the pretext of democracy and human rights that they interfere in other country’s internal affairs while turning a blind eye to their own problems,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a media briefing here.
He reiterated China’s official reference to the Tiananmen massacre as a “political disturbance” and sought to rule out its recurrence as the Chinese economy is on the downhill after long years of growth raising concerns.
“On that political disturbance at the end of 1980s, the Chinese government has reached a clear conclusion a long time ago. The tremendous progress achieved in 70 years since the founding of new China shows that the development path chosen by China is completely right,” he said.
He said the government and the ruling CPC have the “people’s firm backing and the Chinese people will continue to move forward on the path of socialism with Chines characteristics”, an ideological line enunciated by Mao Zedong’s successor Deng Xiaoping in whose time the massacre took place.
Asked does China worry that an incident like Tiananmen protests recur, Geng shot back saying “are you worried?”
“I can assure you no one is more concerned about China’s future and nor cares more about Chinese people’s happiness than the Chinese government and the CPC. They will continue to move forward along the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics and realise China’s centenary goals,” he said.
“In the path of realising national rejuvenation, we will continue to make new progress, rest assured in this regard,” he said.
While China came up with its characteristic response like it does every year during the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, this year, however, Hong Kong media reported about the trauma being suffered by officers and troops of the PLA who carried out the shooting on the peaceful protestors who were termed by the CPC as counter-revolutionaries for their demand for democracy and reforms.
Many of those involved feel profound “guilt and shame” over the lives lost in Beijing 30 years ago, two former officers of the PLA have been quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post.
After the bloodshed, it was the military that suggested the pro-democracy student movement be referred to not as a “counter-revolutionary rebellion” but as a time of “political turmoil, the unidentified officers said.
“The crackdown in 1989 was unprecedented for the PLA and dealt a crippling blow to its reputation and morale and the question over the legitimacy of the decision to send in the tanks and open fire on the protesters remains,” the report said.
“(I believe) the Tiananmen crackdown will be revisited one day it’s just a matter of time. The ultimate responsibility will fall to those military leaders who directly implemented the decision,” a retired researcher with the PLA’s Academy of Military Science, told the Post on the condition of anonymity.
An editorial by the Post, which is owned by Alibaba founder Jack Ma, also said, “there is every reason why Beijing must revisit its June 4 verdict”.
“Much has changed in the 30 years since a bloody military crackdown on a democracy protest led by students in Tiananmen Square shocked the world, but in failing to recognise the patriotism of the movement the country has still not emerged fully from this dark chapter in its history,” it said, drawing parallel to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong against China’s growing control.
“Much has changed since then. Focus on economic development that has lifted hundreds of millions from poverty has helped Beijing in its efforts to sweep the events of June 4, 1989, under the carpet. But they still haunt the leadership,” the editorial said.
“The country has still not emerged fully from this dark chapter in its history. It is time for Beijing to reflect and make amends by recognising the patriotism of the movement so that China can move on,” it said.