Pompeo Calls on China to Disclose Tiananmen Massacre Details

Praises 'heroes' who died seeking democracy in China

Protester Blocking Tanks Approaching Tiananmen Square
Getty Images
June 4, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on China Sunday to make a full accounting of the use of military tanks and troops in killing thousands of unarmed protesters seeking democracy in Beijing's Tiananmen Square 30 years ago this week.

"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 in a statement marking the 30th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, massacre. "Such a step would begin to demonstrate the Communist Party's willingness to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms."

It was the first time a senior U.S. official had demanded a full accounting from the Chinese government.

As many as 10,000 people were killed when Chinese Communist Party leaders ordered the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to send tanks and armored vehicles into Beijing's main square, where tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters had camped out to demand political reforms and an end to corruption.

Troops and tanks fired on the unarmed protesters and others were crushed under the armored vehicle treads in the crackdown, which was the first step in a nationwide mass repression campaign in China against all vestiges of pro-democracy sentiment that has increased under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

"We salute the heroes of the Chinese people who bravely stood up thirty years ago in Tiananmen Square to demand their rights," Pompeo said. "Their exemplary courage has served as an inspiration to future generations calling for freedom and democracy around the world, beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism in Eastern Europe in the months that followed."

The State Department also produced a video of the massacre that quoted massacre survivors. The video quoted one student protester, Li Hengqing, as saying "in 1989 everything changed. [Chinese leaders] used their tanks and their machine guns to kill people, to kill students."

"This is the Chinese political system under the control of the Communist Party, but the Communist Party is not China. The justice may come late, but it will come," Li said.

Chinese dissident Su Xiaokang, stated in the film that the Chinese Communist Party's main priority shifted toward further building up the party's authoritarian control after 1989. "People still don't feel that they are being treated fairly," Su said. "They only see the system being rigged. They are being exploited."

Pompeo also called on the Chinese government to release all those held in prisons and concentration camps for seeking to exercise basic rights and freedoms. He also called for China to halt the use of arbitrary detentions of political prisoners and others.

China's government continues to deny the Tiananmen massacre took place.

In Singapore, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Funghe defended the bloody attack as the "correct" decision to end what he said was a political "disturbance."

'Throughout the 30 years, China under the Communist Party has undergone many changes—do you think the government was wrong with the handling of June Fourth? There was a conclusion to that incident. The government was decisive in stopping the turbulence."

Calling the Tiananmen demonstrators a "heroic protest movement of the Chinese people," Pompeo said the protests were ended June 4, 1989, when tanks were used to violently end peaceful demonstrations demanding democracy, human rights, and an end to rampant Communist Party corruption.

"The hundreds of thousands of protesters who gathered in Beijing and in other cities around China suffered grievously in pursuit of a better future for their country," Pompeo said.

"The number of dead is still unknown," he added. "We express our deep sorrow to the families still grieving their lost loved ones, including the courageous Tiananmen Mothers, who have never stopped seeking accountability, despite great personal risk. The events of thirty years ago still stir our conscience, and the conscience of freedom-loving people around the world."

The social media outlet Twitter came under fire over the past weekend after cancelling thousands of Chinese language Twitter accounts, many of them set up by anti-communist Chinese or critics of the Beijing regime.

The takedown of the accounts came days before the Tiananmen anniversary and prompted widespread criticism. Twitter relented and apologized for the action, saying in a statement the action was not the result of a "mass reported" claim of rules violations by the Chinese government. Twitter called it a "routine action" to cull apparent bot accounts or others accounts designed to circumvent the social media outlet's rules.

The mass canceling of the accounts prompted conservative China critic Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) to tweet that "Twitter has become a Chinese govt censor."

Newly released documents declassified by the British government reveal new details of the PLA operation that resulted in the deaths by gunfire, bayonetting, and crushing of around 10,000 people. The source for the documents was Alan Donald, Britain's ambassador at the time, who quoted a member of the Chinese State Council as estimating that at least 10,000 civilians were killed.

Donald stated in a June 5 cable that the army unit that committed the atrocities was the PLA's 27th group army based in Shanxi Province. According to the report, the 27th was "about 60 percent illiterate and are called primitive."

The troops were prohibited from following news reports for 10 days prior to the crackdown and then were told to prepare for an exercise. "27 Army are at full strength with their own tanks and APCs and full outfit of ammunition, tear gas and flamethrowers."

The unit was ordered "to spare none and shot wounded … soldiers" in addition to protesters. "[Four] wounded girl students begged for their lives but were bayoneted," the report said. "1000 survivors were told they could escape via Zehgnyi Lu but were then mown down by specially prepared [machine gun] positions," the cable said.

The documents were declassified in October by the UK National Archives in London and first published by news site HK01.

Pompeo said the United States, for three decades since the massacre, had hoped to see China moderate its hardline policies and evolve into a more open, tolerant society.

"Those hopes have been dashed," he said. "China's one-party state tolerates no dissent and abuses human rights whenever it serves its interests."

In noting repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang province—called East Turkistan by Uighur dissidents seeking to restore independence—Pompeo also called for China to reverse policies that conflate terrorism with religious and political expression.

In Xinjiang, the Chinese 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 said.

"Even as the party builds a powerful surveillance state, ordinary Chinese citizens continue to seek to exercise their human rights, organize independent unions, pursue justice through the legal system, and simply express their views, for which many are punished, jailed, and even tortured," he said.

Larry Wortzel, a former military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing during the massacre, said: "We don't know how many demonstrators or ordinary citizens were killed during the Tiananmen massacre, but it was bloody and brutal."

Wortzel said the Communist Party of China set the death toll at 200, of which only 36 were students and 23 members of the PLA.

"Today, the CCP leadership would prefer not to use the PLA again in case of riots or unrest," Wortzel said. "They have strengthened and enlarged the People's Armed Police (PAP) and created PAP and PSB riot units. But if the Party center felt threatened again, it is unlikely that Xi Jinping would vacillate and debate: He would not hesitate to crush widespread unrest. The CCP leadership remains as determined as ever to maintain its ruling position, and armed force remains the ultimate guarantor of the party."

Lianchao Han, vice president of the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars, praised Pompeo for calling out the Chinese government.

"The Chinese dissident community is very grateful to Secretary Pompeo's statement on the Tiananmen massacre," Han said.

"It shows human rights are the core of the Trump administration's foreign policy and that the administration will not turn the blind eye to human rights atrocities and abuses past or present," he added. "We are pleased to see the U.S. is vigorously holding the CCP accountable for its gross violation of human rights."

Andrew Nathan, a political science professor at Columbia University, revealed new secrets in the introduction to a new book about the internal Communist Party debate on Tiananmen.

Nathan, writing in the journal Foreign Affairs, said the ruling Politburo convened an extended group meeting June 19 to 21 that was a "loyalty ritual" that sought to unify the fractured Communist Party elite around Deng Xiaoping in the aftermath of the massacre.

The pro-democracy demonstrations were set off after the death in April of Hu Yaobang, a reformist Chinese Communist leader. Party leader Zhao Ziyang, who opposed the use of force, was overruled by Deng and eventually ousted.

Documents from the meeting show that the decisions made in June 1989 form the basis for the hardline policies toward reform and dissent under Xi, the current leader.

"The rest of the world may be marking the 30-year anniversary of the Tiananmen crisis as a crucial episode in China's recent past," Nathan said. "For the Chinese government, however, Tiananmen remains a frightening portent. Even though the regime has wiped the events of June 4 from the memories of most of China's people, they are still living in the aftermath."

A transcript of the meeting quotes retired PLA Gen. Xu Xianqian as describing the massacre as a "counterrevolutionary riot" that he asserted was the result of a "linkup of domestic and foreign counterrevolutionary forces, the result of the long-term flourishing of bourgeois liberalization."

"Their goal was a wild plan to overturn the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, to topple the socialist People's Republic of China, and to establish a bourgeois republic that would be anticommunist, antisocialist, and in complete vassalage to the Western powers," Xu said.

Another PLA officer, Marshal Nie Rongzhen, is quoted in the internal transcript as saying "the counterrevolutionary riot has been pacified, but the thought trend of bourgeois liberalization is far from being eliminated."

"The battle to occupy the ideological front will remain a bitter one," Nie said. "We must resolve to fight a protracted battle; we must prepare for several generations to battle for several decades!"

Nathan notes that Xi's concentration of power may limit leadership divisions and opposition to Party rule in society, but that the dictatorial regime has become unstable.

"Within the party, there is much private grumbling about the demand for loyalty to a vacuous ideology and what is in effect a ban on the discussion of policy," he said.

Additionally, Nathan notes that China now has a large and prosperous middle class that "is quiescent out of realistic caution but yearns for more freedom."

"Xi has responded by strengthening the state's grip on the internet and other media sources, intensifying propaganda, constraining academic freedom, expanding surveillance, fiercely repressing ethnic minorities in western China, and arresting lawyers, feminists, and other activists who dare to push for the rule of law," he stated.

Published under: China