U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with survivors of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre at the hands of Chinese communist troops on Tuesday afternoon, amid strained relations between the United States and China over the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and Hong Kong protests.
The meeting came two days before the 31st anniversary of the incident in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, where Chinese communist troops thwarted student-led protests in a bloody crackdown on June 4 and 5, 1989. Protesters were calling for democracy, free speech, and a free press, among other things.
There is no official death count for the number of victims of communist violence that day, as the Chinese Communist Party has endeavored to keep precise information about it a secret. Most estimates suggest thousands of peaceful protesters, many students, killed by Chinese military forces. Beijing played down the number of casualties, estimating the events led to the death of 241 people (including soldiers) and wounding of 7,000 others, the Encyclopedia Britannica noted.
China reportedly sentenced many of those detained in Tiananmen Square to varying lengths of time in prison and executed others.
“In the years since the incident, the government generally has attempted to suppress references to it,” Britannica added. “Public commemoration of the incident is officially banned.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Morgan Ortagus, a spokesperson for State, revealed that Pompeo met with four of the Tiananmen protesters.
Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo was honored to meet yesterday with Wang Dan, Su Xiaokang, Liane Lee, and Henry Li – four of the thousands of brave participants in the heroic protests for democracy that were brutally put down by the Chinese Communist Party on June 4, 1989.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) June 3, 2020
According to the State Department’s public schedule, Pompeo met with the Tiananmen Square massacre survivors at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2.
Although China has officially banned public commemoration of the Tiananmen events, Hong Kong residents have held an annual vigil on the anniversary of the crackdown, even after the region reverted to Chinese administration. This year, however, China will not allow Hong Kong to mark the massacre’s anniversary, Pompeo said, describing the move as unprecedented.
On Monday, Pompeo wrote on Twitter that the pro-Beijing Hong Kong government did not approve the June 4 Tiananmen vigil, saying:
For the first time in 30 years, Hong Kong authorities denied permission to hold the [Tiananmen Vigil]. If there is any doubt about Beijing’s intent, it is to deny Hong Kongers a voice and a choice, making them the same as mainlanders. So much for two systems.
It starts; so soon. For the first time in 30 years, Hong Kong authorities denied permission to hold the #TiananmenVigil. If there is any doubt about Beijing’s intent, it is to deny Hong Kongers a voice and a choice, making them the same as mainlanders. So much for two systems.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) June 2, 2020
In recent weeks, Hong Kong has been home to pro-democracy protests increasingly challenging the Chinese Communist Party’s tightening grip on the region after Beijing moved to crush the island’s autonomy.
Under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy signed after Britain handed the island over to Beijing, Hong Kong was granted autonomy while its residents enjoy quasi-democratic freedoms inconceivable in China. Officially, Hong Kong is a special administrative region of communist China.
This year is no different. Ortagus, Pompeo’s spokeswoman, stated on Wednesday:
Today we honor the brave Chinese people whose peaceful calls for democracy, human rights, and a corruption-free society came to a violent end when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sent the People’s Liberation Army into Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, armed with tanks and guns.
Thirty-one years later, the total number of missing or dead Tiananmen protesters is still unknown. The United States continues to applaud their aspirations, and the American people stand with the families still grieving their lost loved ones, including the courageous Tiananmen Mothers who have never stopped seeking accountability for their children’s deaths, despite great personal hardship and risk.
We reiterate our call for a full, public accounting of those killed or missing. We mourn the victims of June 4, 1989, and we stand with the people of China who continue to aspire to a government that protects human rights, fundamental freedoms, and basic human dignity.
Pompeo’s meeting with Tiananmen survivors will likely fuel tensions between China and the United States in the South China Sea and beyond.
Today, the U.S. protests the PRC’s unlawful South China Sea maritime claims at the @UN. We reject these claims as unlawful and dangerous. Member States must unite to uphold international law and freedom of the seas. #FreeAndOpenIndoPacific https://t.co/h6UCoBnnnb
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) June 2, 2020
The demonstrations, which reportedly began in May 1989, and the subsequent repression at the hands of Chinese communist troops spilled outside of Beijing to cities across the country and beyond in events that came to be known as the May Fourth Movement.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has accused China of allowing the lethal and highly contagious COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, to spread by mismanaging its response and hiding the extent of the outbreak during its initial phase.
China, the birthplace of the coronavirus, denies the assertions.