Commemorating Tiananmen Square, US secretary of state condemns China’s human rights record

05-Jun-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a vehement condemnation of China’s human rights record on Monday just seconds after June 4 arrived in Beijing, marking three decades since Chinese troops opened fire on demonstrators calling for democracy.

“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 issued at 12.01am Beijing time, almost 30 years to the hour after tanks rolled through the capital’s centre to clear protesters gathered in Tiananmen Square.

Since the crackdown the death toll of which remains unknown but is estimated to be in the hundreds, possibly more than 1,000 the US had “hoped that China’s integration into the international system would lead to a more open, tolerant society”, Pompeo said.

“Those hopes have been dashed,” Pompeo, now on a tour of Europe, continued. “China’s one-party state tolerates no dissent and abuses human rights whenever it serves its interests.”

Pompeo went on to insist that Beijing “release all those held for seeking to exercise these rights and freedoms, halt the use of arbitrary detention, and reverse counterproductive policies that conflate terrorism with religious and political expression.”

The China embassy in Washington expressed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to Pompeo’s statement, saying that it was made “out of prejudice and arrogance” and intervened in its internal affairs.

“China’s human rights are in the best period ever,” an embassy spokesperson. “The Chinese people have the best say on China. Their pursuit of a better life cannot be stopped by any force. Whoever attempts to patronise and bully the Chinese people in any name, or preach a “clash of civilisations” to resist the trend of times will never succeed. They will only end up in the ash heap of history.”

China’s leadership has refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing in its handling of the Tiananmen Square protests, and the subject remains taboo on the mainland.

The country’s authorities exercise a zero-tolerance policy to any mention or commemoration of the incident a ban that extends to its social media platforms with the only large-scale public honouring on Chinese soil of the weeks-long protests and their crackdown taking place yearly in Hong Kong in the form of huge candlelight vigils.

China’s one-party state tolerates no dissent and abuses human rights whenever it serves its interests

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state

In an unusual public acknowledgement on Sunday of the events of June 4, China’s defence minister supported Beijing’s handling of what he characterised as “political turbulence”.

“The central government’s measures to stop that turbulence was correct,” general Wei Fenghe said at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, in response to a question. “China has enjoyed stable development.”

Social stability and economic growth are frequently cited by Chinese officials whenever the government’s human rights record is criticised, most recently concerning its policies in Xinjiang in northwest China, where around one million Uygurs and other largely Muslim ethnic groups are reported to be held in internment camps that Beijing calls “vocational training centres”.

Pompeo on Monday described those policies as attempts by the Chinese Communist Party “to strangle Uygur culture and stamp out the Islamic faith”.

In a statement marking the anniversary and tying the Tiananmen Square crackdown to Beijing’s current human rights policies the Washington-based Uygur Human Rights Project called for “an end to the abnormality of the Communist Party’s denialism through concerted action”.

“If there is one lesson we must learn from Tiananmen Square, it is we must not permit China to conceal its crimes against humanity,” said Omer Kanat, the group’s director.

If Beijing were to issue a public account of those who lost their lives on June 4, said Pompeo, it would “begin to demonstrate the Communist Party’s willingness to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

Yet beyond tough talk from Pompeo and vice-President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump’s administration has not made human rights a prominent part of its dealings with China, even as tensions have grown on matters of trade and spread to numerous other fronts.

Despite repeated calls from Congress and human rights advocates, for example, the administration has not issued any sanctions against Chinese officials under the Global Magnitsky Act, a tool introduced during the Obama administration that empowers the government to punish individuals deemed complicit in or responsible for human rights abuses.

“What’s uniquely concerning today is that, 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 worse,” Senator Bob Menendez said.

The senator, a New Jersey Democrat and the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, accused the Trump administration of refusing “to stand up for human rights, the free press and democratic values”, and vowed to “continue demanding Congress to step in to fill the void”.

Menendez is co-author of a bill now sitting in the Senate that if passed would demand, among other things, the creation of a Special Coordinator for Xinjiang at the State Department.

Speaking in Washington at the National Endowment for Democracy, Menendez welcomed Trump’s assessment of China as a “serious threat” and cited Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s elimination of presidential term limits; Beijing’s crackdown on civil society and human rights; the introduction of an “Orwellian system” of mass surveillance; and its military and economic advances across the world.

“The China that challenges us today is the China that chose its path on those fateful days in June of 1989,” he said. “Without a strategy, we risk letting China remake the developing world in its own repressive image.”

“Democracy will not defend itself,” he said. “We must defend democracy.”


Category: China

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