Security was tightened around Beijing's Tiananmen Square Tuesday as China sought to silence any remembrance of the deadly crackdown on student-led protests exactly 30 years ago.
Visitors were subjected to strict identification checks by security forces as they arrived at Tiananmen Square to witness the daily early morning flag-raising ceremony. Foreign journalists were barred from the square and warned not take any pictures of the scene.
Hundreds, possibly thousands of people were killed when Chinese soldiers and tanks stormed Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989 to end a nearly two-month demonstration by students and workers demanding democratic change and the end of corruption. As with other past anniversaries, China's ruling Communist Party has gone to great lengths to erase any memories of the event from official history. The government bans any public observance of the crackdown, heavily censors the Internet by removing all articles, comments and pictures of that day, and rounds up activists, lawyers and journalists each year as the anniversary approaches.
A statement released Monday by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saluting the student protesters as "the heroes of the Chinese people" led to a sharp rebuke by China's embassy in Washington. Pompeo said the U.S. had hoped that China's "integration into the international system would lead to a more open, tolerant society" in the three decades since the incident galvanized world opinion.
"But those hopes have been dashed," the top U.S. diplomat said. "China’s one-party state tolerates no dissent and abuses human rights whenever it serves its interests. 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, including through the detention of more than one million members of Muslim minority groups."
Pompeo called on Beijing "to make a full, public accounting of those killed or missing to give comfort to the many victims of this dark chapter of history."
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy said Pompeo's remarks were an "affront to the Chinese people," made out of "prejudice and arrogance" which "grossly interferes in China's internal affairs" and "smears its domestic and foreign policies."
The spokesman also said China has "enjoyed rapid economic and social development, continuous progress in democracy and the rule of law" since the 1989 crackdown. "China's human rights are in the best period ever."
The spokesman warned that anyone that attempts to "patronize and bully the Chinese people" will only "end up in the ash heap of history."
The statement was China's second defense in as many days of the government's actions against the Tiananmen Square protesters, as well as a rare acknowledgement of the brutal crackdown.
Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, in answering a question posed at a conference in Singapore, said, "There was a conclusion to that incident. That was a political turmoil that the central government needed to quell. The government was decisive in stopping the turbulence. That was the correct policy."
Wei questioned why critics still say that China "did not handle the incident properly."
"The 30 years have proven that China has undergone major changes," he said. Wei said that because of Beijing's response at the time, "China has enjoyed stability and development."