Beijing Tightens Security on Tiananmen 30th Anniversary

A Chinese paramilitary policeman stands guard in front of Mao Zedong's portrait on Tiananmen Gate on the 30th anniversary of a bloody crackdown of pro-democracy protesters in Beijing on Tuesday, June 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

BEIJING — China stepped up security around Tiananmen Square in central Beijing on Tuesday, as its embassy in Washington criticized the top U.S. diplomat for his statement on its bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests at the square 30 years ago.

Extra checkpoints and street closures greeted tourists who showed up before 5 a.m. to watch the daily flag-raising ceremony at the square. An honor guard marched across a barricaded road and raised the Chinese flag as the national anthem played.

The tight security served as a reminder of the government’s attempts to quash any memories of the crackdown on the night of June 3-4, 1989, that is believed to have killed hundreds and possibly thousands of people.

For many Chinese, the 30th anniversary of the crackdown will pass like any other day. Any commemoration of the event is not allowed in mainland China, and the government has blocked access to information about it on the internet.

A half-dozen activists could not be reached by phone or text. One who could, Beijing-based Hu Jia, said he had been taken by security agents to the northeastern coastal city of Qinghuangdao on May 30.

Chinese authorities routinely take known dissidents away on what are euphemistically called “vacations” or otherwise silence them during sensitive political times.

“This is a reflection of their fears, their terror, not ours,” Hu said.

Human rights groups say restrictions have also been placed on members of the Tiananmen Mothers group, whose sons were killed in the military action.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement Monday saluting what he called the “heroes of the Chinese people who bravely stood up thirty years ago … to demand their rights.”

He urged China to make a full, public accounting of those killed, and said that U.S. hopes have been dashed that China would become a more open and tolerant society.

A post on the website of the Chinese Embassy in Washington said that Pompeo’s statement “grossly intervenes in China’s internal affairs … and smears its domestic and foreign policies.”

It added that the Chinese government and people reached a verdict long ago on what it called “the political incident of the late 1980s,” and that China’s rapid economic development and progress in democracy and the rule of law show it is following the right path.

Analysts say the crackdown set the ruling Communist Party on a path of repression and control that continues to this day.

Andrew Nathan, a Columbia University professor of Chinese politics, said China would likely be a very different place if the protests had ended peacefully though dialogue instead of force.

“They embarked on a strategy of not dialoguing with the people,” he said. “The party knows best, the party decides, and the people have no voice. So that requires more and more intense repression of all of the forces in society that want to be heard.”

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini recalled how the European Council denounced the “brutal repression” in Beijing at a June 1989 meeting.

“Acknowledgement of these events, and of those killed, detained or missing in connection with the Tiananmen Square protests, is important for future generations and for the collective memory,” Mogherini said in a statement.

Thousands are expected to turn out for a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong. The territory has relatively greater freedoms than the mainland does under an agreement reached before the former British colony was returned to China in 1997, though activists are concerned about the erosion of those freedoms in recent years.

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Associated Press journalists Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Yong Jun Chang in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.