Beijing rejects calls to review deaths 

BEIJING - China yesterday rejected calls for a reassessment of the 1989 Tiananmen protests, chastising the United States for demanding that it account for those killed in the June 4 crackdown.

On Wednesday, the eve of the 20th anniversary of the student- and worker-led protests quelled by the army, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged China to “examine openly the darker events of its past and provide a public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, both to learn and to heal”.

A rights group said recently that about 30 people were still in prison on charges related to the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations, which China called “counter-revolutionary”. Beijing has never published an official death toll or list of casualties.

A grouping of victims’ family members, the Tiananmen Mothers, has documented 195 deaths and has persistently demanded a reassessment of the official verdict.

Yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, peppered with questions about the June 4 anniversary at a regular press conference, slammed Mrs Clinton’s call as “crudely meddling in Chinese domestic affairs”.

He said: “The statement from the United States ignores the facts and makes groundless accusations against the Chinese government.”

Since President Barack Obama took office and in the current global recession, the United States has played down its traditional concerns over China’s human rights, prompting a cordial and cooperative tone from Beijing.

Departing from that yesterday, Mr Qin said: “We express our strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition. We urge the United States to forsake its political bias, correct its erroneous ways to avoid obstructing and damaging China-US relations.”

Asked by foreign journalists if Beijing would publish an official death toll, the spokesman did not answer directly.

Instead, he reiterated Beijing’s official line: “Our party and government have long made a clear conclusion on the political turbulence that took place in the late 1980s and issues related to it. We have already made clear our position many times.”

When a BBC journalist used the words “Tiananmen killings” while asking a question, Mr Qin objected to the “error in expression”.

In the past week, the authorities have whisked outspoken dissidents out of the capital and put others under increased police surveillance. The efforts were to ensure that one of this year’s most sensitive political anniversaries passed quietly.

And it did, amid a heavy security presence in and around Tiananmen Square.

Uniformed police, paramilitary personnel and youths in plainclothes wearing a badge bearing the Chinese flag patrolled the square.Stepping up already-tight security measures in recent days, foreign tourists yesterday had to show their passports before being let into the square. Foreign journalists reported being refused entry by police citing unspecified regulations or were told to delete film footage.

On Wednesday night, a planned memorial held annually by relatives of those killed on the streets in Muxidi – an area west of the square which likely saw the bulk of casualties as tanks rumbled through that night in 1989 – was thwarted, with scores of police questioning journalists there to witness the event.

\To prevent public discussion, the authorities this week intensified Internet censorship by blocking assess to online messaging site Twitter and photo-sharing service Flickr. But some Netizens still managed to write eulogies and statements of remembrance by avoiding the words “6, 4” or writing “8 squared” instead (8 x 8 = 64).

As in the past, “June 4th” was not mentioned in the local press, save for one reference in the Beijing-backed English-language Global Times newspaper. The June 3 and June 4 editions of People’s Daily ran front-page stories pledging the Chinese Communist Party’s firm support for retired military officers.

In Hong Kong, tens of thousands of people attended an annual candlelight vigil held at Victoria Park last night to mark the Tiananmen crackdown.

Beijing is unlikely to address the 1989 events even 20 years on, noted Professor Huang Jing, China expert at Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

“My sense is the leadership is not too worried for now...It is not an issue that threatens their very survival right now. “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

simcy@sph.com.sg