One of the exiled leaders of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 got the cold shoulder from the Chinese embassy in Washington on Friday when he tried to turn himself in to return home.
Wu’er Kaixi, 44, who now lives in Taiwan, wants to see his frail and aging parents in Urumqi, northwest China, as well as ignite a dialogue on reform with China’s communist leadership – even if it means standing trial.
But when he went to the bunker-like Chinese embassy in the US capital, the dissident activist found the smoked-glass doors locked, and no one responded when he rang the doorbell and dialed an off-hours telephone number.
Telephone calls into the embassy by an AFP reporter at the scene also went unanswered.
“Well, I guess this is as close as I can get to Chinese soil,” said Wu’er, who last tried to surrender at the Chinese embassy in Tokyo, where Japanese police arrested him for trespassing and held him for two days.
“If I want to go home, what does it take? It’s office hours. I call then and ring the bell, but no one comes,” he said, adding that he would next take his case to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Yang Jianli, the president of Washington-based group Initiatives for China who was on hand to support Wu’er at the embassy, said “the Chinese government is doing everything it can to erase the memory of Tiananmen Square.”
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when the Chinese government sent in tanks and soldiers to clear the square in central Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989, and end six weeks of unprecedented pro-democracy protests.
Wu’er, then a student at Beijing Normal University, was among several Tiananmen leaders and hunger strikers who escaped to the United States in the weeks after the crackdown.
An official Chinese Communist Party verdict after the Tiananmen protests branded the movement a “counter-revolutionary rebellion,” although the wording has since been softened.
Asked as an exile of 23 years what advice he would give blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who escaped house arrest last month and plans to come to the United States, Wu’er suggested patience.
Chen, who China pledged Thursday would get a passport within 15 days in order to leave the country, “is a hero,” Wu’er said. “Everybody in the world should embrace him.
“But he needs to take this good time (in the United States) to take a good rest” before joining other exiles in “a group effort… a team effort” to bring about change in China, Wu’er added.
Wu’er was among six Tiananmen activists in exile who last month sent a letter to Beijing saying they had been deprived of their right to return to their homeland and denied Chinese travel documents abroad.
Their letter coincided with the death of dissident astrophysicist Fang Lizhi in the United States at the age of 76. Fang sympathised with the Tiananmen protests, but refrained from taking a leading role in them.
Wu’er, who studied at Harvard University but failed to graduate, is now a political commentator in Taiwan. His gesture on Friday drew only a handful of reporters and a single uniformed US Secret Service diplomatic security officer.
He said he was “extremely concerned” about the health of his father, 76, and mother, 70, with whom he remains in contact via the Internet. Wu’er also has an older brother who is caring for their parents.
“They’re no longer young,” Wu’er said of his parents, and Beijing steadfastly refuses to let them travel outside of China to see him. “Inhumane is an understatement… It’s barbaric.”-By Robert MacPherson