It is already 30 years since the Tiananmen Massacre of June 4, 1989, during which regular units of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army bloodily suppressed students, workers, and other citizens who were peacefully calling for democracy in China.
Democracy activists who fled China in the wake of the brutal crackdown are among those marking this day with memorial services. They still advocate liberty and democracy, while mourning victims of the regime in Beijing.
The paramount leader of the Communist Party of China (CCP) at the time of the Tiananmen drama was Deng Xiaoping, who condemned the student movement as “counter revolutionary rebellion.” Till this day, the CCP unwaveringly clings to this verdict on the affair and adamantly refuses any political reforms that might pave the way for democracy.
The time has come to recognize anew that this dictatorial regime — which has no regrets about its crimes in suppressing its own people — also controls the second largest economy in the world.
Let the Truth Be Told in China and Abroad
After hardliners in the CCP won the internal debate, martial law forces equipped with tanks and armored personnel carriers were sent in to drive out the students and other protestors from Tiananmen Square, which they had occupied for weeks.
Exactly how many people died on that infamous day? That is a question that remains unanswered since many of the core facts about the incident remain under wraps, even after three decades. That is truly regrettable.
Three months after the event, then-premier Li Peng claimed there had only been 319 victims, most of them members of the military. However, overseas reports and other casualty estimates ranged in the thousands, or even more than 10,000. Clarifying what actually happened at Tiananmen would be the first small step to rectifying this highly abnormal situation.
Nor has the CCP ever published statistics on the number of its victims during the Great Famine, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. Now that China has a much larger presence in international society, Beijing should no longer be able to get away with the same kind of coverups that characterized the Mao era.
No matter how much the CCP leadership tries to obfuscate things, it cannot escape responsibility for the crime of using armed force to suppress its own citizens.
Reassessing its verdict on Tiananmen and committing itself to political reforms, without a doubt, would be the best choice the CCP could make for the welfare of the Chinese people. We should remain firm in demanding just that.
Xi Jinping’s Wasted Opportunity
When Xi Jinping was chosen as China’s leader, it was noted that he did not have any direct ties to Deng or the others who had been responsible for Tiananmen and its aftermath. Noting that his father, Xi Zhongxun, had been a party elder who was aligned with the reformist faction, it would seem that Xi as secretary-general of the CCP had leeway to undertake a real historical reassessment of the events of June 4, 1989.
Be that as it may, under the banner of “rooting out corruption,” Xi has been intent on carrying out a purge of his political rivals within the party. Moreover, he has been constantly refining the machinery of totalitarian domestic control through revisions of public security laws and ever more sophisticated hi-tech surveillance.
Xi also had China’s Constitution amended to eliminate term limits for president of the PRC. With this reckless action, he did away with a rule designed to put a brake on long-term dictatorships, which had been instituted based on hard lessons learned during the Mao era.
Wang Dan, who was one of the student leaders at the time of the Tiananmen intervention, has gone so far as to declare that the human rights situation in China “has gotten much worse compared to what it was like before the Tiananmen incident.” We need to face the facts about the current situation. It is clear that the values of democracy and rule of law have been given no place in Xi’s China.
Japan as a Standard-Bearer for Human Rights
Japan and other Western governments subscribed wholeheartedly to the policy of “reform and opening up” championed by Deng Xiaoping. In addition to the desire to use China as a foil to counter the former Soviet Union, there was the expectation that if China grew prosperous, sooner or later it would inevitably democratize.
How misguided these hopes have been is proven by the China’s stance today, as it employs the awesome economic and military power it has amassed to bolster its hegemonic presence abroad and advance the cause of dictatorship.
In the immediate wake of Tiananmen, Japan joined forces with other Western countries in imposing sanctions on Beijing. For example, Tokyo froze yen loans to China.
That provided a perfect opportunity for us to correct our mistaken approach to engaging China. However, the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu soon became the first Western government to break ranks and ditch the sanctions on Beijing.
In 1989, the same year as Tiananmen, free elections were held in Poland. And the Berlin Wall — a physical symbol of the East-West divide — came crashing down. It was at this historical turning point, when the communist regimes throughout the world seemed on the brink of extinction, that Japan again lent a hand to help get the dictatorial regime in Beijing back on its feet — without questioning China’s responsibility for massacring its own citizens.
Time to Commit to Freedom and Democracy in China
The Japanese government is urged to take this bitter lesson to heart in its China policy and not again foster Chinese hegemonism.
Because of its current tense relations with the United States, Beijing is hell-bent on improving relations with Tokyo. And Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has concluded that Sino-Japanese relations are “completely back on a normal track.”
China is urging Japan to increase its involvement in Xi’s pet global development concept, the Belt and Road Initiative. This scheme is nothing but a strategy for Chinese expansionism. For Japan to go rushing into it with eyes shut means that it has learned nothing whatsoever from Tiananmen.
Xi Jinping will be among the leaders coming to Japan in June for the G20 Summit in Osaka. As we mark the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen tragedy, it is incumbent upon the Japanese government to make clear to the world its duty to remember the events of June 4, 1989.
Promoting democratization in China is in accord with Japan’s national interests. Therefore, it is vital for Japan to lead international society in raising the issue of the worsening human rights situation in China.
The time has come for Japan to affirm to China in no uncertain terms its commitment to the universal values of freedom and democracy.
(Click here to read this Sankei Shimbun editorial in its original Japanese.)
Author: The Sankei Shimbun