The White House said Thursday that China’s “slaughter” of protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989 has not been forgotten, urging Beijing to give its first accurate accounting of the bloodshed.
“The Chinese Communist Party’s slaughter of unarmed Chinese civilians was a tragedy that will not be forgotten,” President Donald Trump’s press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.
“The United States calls on China to honor the memory of those who lost their lives and to provide a full accounting of those who were killed, detained, or remain missing in connection with the events surrounding the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989.”
Beijing’s city government claimed weeks after the crackdown that around 200 people had died, the vast majority soldiers, with only 36 university students killed.
China’s central government has never released a full official toll, but estimates from academics, witnesses and human rights groups have put the figure between several hundred to over 1,000.
Open discussion of the brutal suppression is forbidden in mainland China. In Hong Kong, where Beijing is tightening its central rule, a mass vigil to mark the anniversary was banned, though tens of thousands of people defied the decision.
Every year, the United States issues a similar statement demanding China be held accountable. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with survivors, including Wang Dan, perhaps the most prominent of the student leaders from the doomed pro-democracy protest.
Pompeo, who had earlier denounced China for preventing Hong Kong’s annual commemoration on the grounds that mass gatherings went against guidelines in fighting the coronavirus, tweeted a photo of the meeting.
However, this year, Washington’s message has been overshadowed by what critics describe as Trump’s heavy-handed response to nationwide protests – some marred by rioting and arson – against police brutality.
China on Friday accused the United States of hypocrisy.
“The US has always bragged about so-called democracy and human rights, but the facts repeatedly show that the US record in this area is full of stains,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing.
Geng said Washington should “put its own house in order” and defended China’s political system.
Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader has also accused the United States of double standards in criticizing the city’s own clampdown on pro-democracy protesters.
Relations between China and the United States are already at a low ebb in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak that began in Wuhan. Trump blames Beijing for allowing the virus to spread rapidly across the world and has broken off relations with the World Health Organization, accusing it of bias toward the Chinese government.