China breaks silence and defends Tiananmen action

Police officers keeping watch over Tiananmen Square in Beijing yesterday, ahead of the 30th anniversary of the crackdown today. While the incident cannot be commemorated publicly in mainland China, events marking its anniversary have been planned in
Police officers keeping watch over Tiananmen Square in Beijing yesterday, ahead of the 30th anniversary of the crackdown today. While the incident cannot be commemorated publicly in mainland China, events marking its anniversary have been planned in Hong Kong as well as in various cities, including New York, Vancouver and Toronto.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
(Top) People's Liberation Army tanks and soldiers guarding Chang'an Avenue leading to Tiananmen Square in Beijing two days after their crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on June 6, 1989. (Bottom) Traffic on Changan Avenue in front of flags flying
(Top) People's Liberation Army tanks and soldiers guarding Chang'an Avenue leading to Tiananmen Square in Beijing two days after their crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on June 6, 1989. (Bottom) Traffic on Changan Avenue in front of flags flying at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on May 29, 2019.PHOTO: AFP
(Top) A pro-democracy protest at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on May 15, 1989. (Bottom) People at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on May 29, 2019.
(Top) A pro-democracy protest at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on May 15, 1989. (Bottom) People at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on May 29, 2019.PHOTO: AFP
(Top) Students and locals gathered at Tiananmen Square in Beijing after an overnight hunger strike as part of the mass pro-democracy protest against the Chinese government on May 14, 1989. (Bottom) People at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on May 18, 201
(Top) Students and locals gathered at Tiananmen Square in Beijing after an overnight hunger strike as part of the mass pro-democracy protest against the Chinese government on May 14, 1989. (Bottom) People at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on May 18, 2019.PHOTO: AFP
(Top) Pro-democracy protesters gathered near a Goddess of Democracy statue at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 2, 1989. (Bottom) People at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on May 18, 2019.
(Top) Pro-democracy protesters gathered near a Goddess of Democracy statue at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 2, 1989. (Bottom) People at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on May 18, 2019.PHOTO: AFP
(Top) Students sleeping on the ground at Tiananmen Square in Beijing as student sit-ins entered their nineth day during the Beijing Spring movement on May 21, 1989. (Bottom) People at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on May 18, 2019.
(Top) Students sleeping on the ground at Tiananmen Square in Beijing as student sit-ins entered their nineth day during the Beijing Spring movement on May 21, 1989. (Bottom) People at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on May 18, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

On eve of 30th anniversary of crackdown, it downplays incident and accuses West of stirring up public opinion

The Chinese Communist Party has broken its silence on what has been the most taboo topic in China since 1989.

In a rare move, the state-run nationalistic Global Times yesterday published an editorial defending the government's decision to send troops and tanks into Tiananmen Square on the morning of June 4 30 years ago to quash a student-led pro-democracy movement.

Headlined "June 4 immunised China against turmoil", the editorial, published only in its English-language edition, downplayed the incident and accused dissidents and Western politicians and media of stirring up public opinion and attacking China.

"Merely afflicting China once, the incident has not become a long-term nightmare for the country. Neither has the incident's anniversary ever been placed in the teeth of the storm. It has become a faded historical event, rather than an actual entanglement," it said.

It also described the intellectuals involved in the protests as lacking in maturity and driven by idealism.

"Having become politically mature, we now understand the significance of the country's continuous development through evolutions instead of revolutions," it stated.

"As a vaccination for the Chinese society, the Tiananmen incident will greatly increase China's immunity against any major political turmoil in the future."

 
 

As the 30th anniversary drew near, officials found themselves having to deal with questions about the highly sensitive topic. At a regular Foreign Ministry briefing yesterday, spokes-man Geng Shuang was asked two questions related to the incident.

"I can tell you that the Chinese government has already had a clear conclusion about the political turmoil that occurred in the late 1980s. The tremendous achievements in the development of the new China in the past 70 years have fully proven that the development path we have chosen is completely correct," he said.

On Sunday, Defence Minister Wei Fenghe called the 1989 clampdown "a correct decision", pointing to China's stability since the demonstrations were put down forcibly.

Responding to a question at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, he said: "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 4? There was a conclusion to that incident. The government was decisive in stopping the turbulence."

The episode is one of the most censored topics in China, and officials and state media have typically kept mum, while the Internet is wiped clean of any mention of the protests and the killings.

While Gen Wei's comments on Sino-US relations, Taiwan and the South China Sea were widely reported in the Chinese media, there was no mention of his remarks on the Tiananmen incident.

Last week, a Defence Ministry spokesman took issue with the word "suppression" when he was asked at a regular news conference if China's military would be commemorating the anniversary.

"I don't agree with you for using the word suppression," Mr Wu Qian said. "In the last 30 years, the course of China's reforms, development and stability, the successes we have achieved have already answered this question."

 
 

While the incident cannot be commemorated publicly in mainland China, events marking its anniversary have been planned in Hong Kong as well as in various cities including New York, Vancouver and Toronto. There will also be a congressional hearing today in Washington where former student leaders Wu'er Kaixi and Zhou Fengsuo will speak.

Yesterday, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council slammed Beijing for covering up the crackdown.

"China has to sincerely repent for the June 4 incident and proactively push for democratic reforms," it said. "We earnestly admonish the Chinese authorities to face up to the historical mistake, and sincerely apologise as soon as possible."

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said China's human rights and freedom were "still greatly oppressed".

Organisers of Hong Kong's annual Tiananmen vigil have said they expect a larger-than-usual crowd. However, dissident Feng Congde, who had travelled from Germany to attend tonight's event, was reportedly barred from entering on Sunday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2019, with the headline 'China breaks silence and defends Tiananmen action'. Print Edition | Subscribe