Taiwan urges China to 'repent' for Tiananmen crackdown, push for democratic reforms

Giant balloons in the shape of a Chinese military tank and Tank Man are placed at the Liberty Square, ahead of June 4th anniversary of military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, in Taipei, Taiwan, on May 21, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - China must "sincerely repent" for the bloody crackdown of pro-democracy demonstrators on and around Tiananmen Square three decades ago and promote democratic reforms, Taiwan's government said on Monday (June 3) ahead of the sensitive anniversary.

Tuesday marks 30 years since Chinese troops opened fire to end the student-led unrest. Chinese authorities ban any public commemoration of the event on the mainland and have never released a full death toll. Estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

"China has to sincerely repent for the June 4 incident and proactively push for democratic reforms," Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement likely to infuriate China.

"We earnestly admonish the Chinese authorities to face up to the historical mistake, and sincerely apologise as soon as possible."

The council said Beijing had been telling "lies" to cover up the events of 1989 and "distorting" the truth.

There was no immediate response from Beijing. China claims self-ruled and democratic Taiwan as its sacred territory.

Beijing has increased government suppression of rights activism, pushing the demonstrators' original goals further away than ever.

"Taiwan will continue to point to the direction of democracy for mainland China," the council said, adding that it would support China's move to democracy "in all manner of ways".

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said June 4, 1989, was a "historic turning point" for China, which had since taken a different path for democratic development.

"Very unfortunately, although China had made progress in economic development in recent years, its human rights and freedom were still greatly oppressed," she said in a meeting with overseas rights activists.

"We also care a lot about the development of democracy and human rights in mainland China, and hope China could walk toward that path," she was cited as saying in a statement from the Presidential Office.

Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe on Sunday defended Beijing's handling of Tiananmen, saying the government "was decisive in stopping the turbulence", a rare official acknowledgement of the events of June 4.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said such remarks in defence of the Chinese military's handling of the protests were "incredible".

"It proves that them keeping saying 'Chinese people don't attack Chinese people' is a gargantuan lie."

China has been ramping up the pressure on Taiwan, which holds presidential elections in January, whittling away at its few remaining diplomatic allies and regularly sending air force jets close to the island.

Beijing suspects Ms Tsai and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party of pushing formal independence for Taiwan, a red line for China. Ms Tsai repeatedly says she wants to maintain the status quo but vows to defend the island's democracy.

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