“The 32nd anniversary of the June 4 incident in Tiananmen Square coincides with the global pandemic of the new epidemic, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and unprecedented tensions between China and the Western world under the leadership of CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping. Chinese academic movement leader Wang Dan called on the Biden administration to resolve China’s human rights problems once and for all by pushing the country to end one-party dictatorship, while Li Hengqing called for the Tiananmen Square incident to be put on the agenda to pry Beijing off.
After Hong Kong and Macau refused to authorize June 4 candlelight rallies on the grounds of “incitement to subversion,” this year marks the first time that no public June 4 memorials have been held on Communist-run Chinese soil. The U.S. government is concerned that the Hong Kong authorities are attempting to erase the June 4 candlelight vigil.
The U.S. government has condemned attempts by Hong Kong authorities to erase the history of the Tiananmen Square massacre. In a June 2 press conference call, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter said, “The United States condemns the actions of the Hong Kong authorities that have caused the organizers of the June 4 commemoration to close the June 4 Memorial Hall, which commemorates the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.”
Calls for democracy on June 4 more important 32 years later
Wang Dan, a former leader of the Tiananmen student movement and a Chinese democracy activist, told Voice of America that 32 years after June 4, the new crown epidemic has caused tremendous damage to people’s lives and property around the world, and that the epidemic might have had a different outcome if the calls for political democracy and freedom of expression made by the June 4 students back then had been accepted.
He said, “When this epidemic broke out, the Chinese Communist Party concealed the epidemic, including the persecution of some whistle blowers, which led to the spread of the epidemic, a responsibility that the Chinese Communist Party cannot shirk. I think this epidemic proves once again, to a certain extent, that if there is no political reform in China, if there is no open and transparent public opinion environment and freedom of speech, then it will cause great damage to people’s lives and property. And to have a political reform, to have a democratic environment, to have freedom of speech, that was the strongest cry of the students in Tiananmen Square in 1989.”
Li Hengqing, another former Tiananmen Square leader, said that perhaps the special thing about this year’s June Fourth anniversary was the lack of candlelight in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park and Macau. This underscores the unprecedented crackdown on civil liberties and dissent by the Chinese Communist regime under Xi Jinping under internal and external pressure.
The biggest feature this year,” he said, “is the absence of the (memorials) in Hong Kong and Macau that could be had on the land under the People’s Republic of China. That’s the biggest feature. But is it that without the candlelight in Victoria Park and without the candlelight in Macau, people can forget the June 4 Incident, this kind of blood history? No. On the contrary. On the contrary, this year has provoked a stronger backlash around the world. That’s a very important difference.”
Putting Tiananmen on the table to pry Beijing apart
Both Wang Dan and Li Hengqing were publicly received by then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on June 2 of last year, the 31st anniversary of June 4. That meeting was the first time a sitting U.S. Secretary of State met publicly with leaders and survivors of the movement during the June Fourth Movement, and marked a shift in the U.S. attitude toward Beijing on the June Fourth issue.
Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, chairman of the Congressional and Executive Committee on China (CECC), and Democratic Congressman James McGovern, co-chairman, issued a statement Thursday (June 3) on the 32nd anniversary of the June 4 incident in Tiananmen Square, stating The Chinese authorities’ violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators continues to affect U.S.-China relations to this day. The statement also called on the international community to unite to focus on and end the repression of prisoners of conscience in China and in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.
Today, we salute the courage and sacrifice of all those who gathered in the streets of Beijing and more than 400 other cities in the spring of 1989 to call for democracy, human rights and an end to corruption,” the statement said. The violent repression of these protests crushed peaceful demands for human rights and reform and continues to complicate U.S.-China relations to this day.”
In an era when U.S.-China relations are entering full competition, how should the Biden administration, which emphasizes universal values such as freedom, democracy and human rights, incorporate human rights and values into its grand strategy of competing with China while promoting China’s human rights cause?
Li Hengqing said that the Biden administration has largely continued many of the Trump administration’s policies toward China, but with a greater emphasis on uniting the strengths of U.S. allies. This reflects the convergence of the U.S. Democratic and Republican parties’ positions on China. He also said the Biden administration should be more vocal about putting human rights on the table in its dealings with Beijing, using the issue as a lever to pivot its strategy toward Beijing, as the U.S.-China dispute has increasingly evolved into a battle of institutions and ideologies.
The ideological dispute will be an important opportunity for China and the United States or for China and the civilized world to compete for decades to come,” he said. So I think the U.S. government should make its attitude more directly and distinctly clear. Also, deliver that message directly to China, to China, to have face-to-face communication with the Chinese people, with Chinese intellectuals, with Chinese students. This is very important.”
Wang Dan said the Biden administration should take a more realistic and pragmatic approach on human rights issues.
He said, “Biden suggested a while ago that the competition between the United States and China is between democracy and autocracy. I highly approve of this view. But on the other hand, I also want to emphasize that the solution to China’s human rights problem is more fundamentally a solution to China’s political problem. As long as the Chinese Communist Party is in power, this political reality will not change, and there is no room for any human rights improvement. Then talking about human rights issues will not lead to practical results. Therefore, I still hope that the Western countries, led by the United States, while paying attention to human rights issues, can also use more energy to focus on how to promote and adopt various ways to make China end its one-party dictatorship and develop in the direction of a democratic country. I think that’s the most crucial reason to solve the human rights problem.”
The candlelight of June 4 is not extinguished, and the darkness of the night is called for the dawn.
Thirty-two years ago, those who participated in that democracy movement were full of ideals and confidence, hoping to turn China into a free, democratic and open modern civilized country. But is the current situation in China becoming more and more distant from the ideals pursued by the generation of the 1989 academic movement?
Wang Dan expressed regret for the current political situation in China, but not disappointment.
At least I personally am not overly disappointed,” he said. I think it may take a long time for such a turn in the process of historical development, but 32 years is not a long time in the whole history. I think this is a normal phenomenon. For those of us who were students at that time, or those who continued to pursue the democratization of China, I think the most important thing is not when the result of the victory will come, but whether we can still persevere before the result of the victory comes. I think the result is not important, but the process is more important. So I don’t really care too much about when the one-party dictatorship will end, what I care about is whether we can continue to hold on when it doesn’t.”
Li Hengqing also believes that the most important thing now is to “keep vigil” in the darkness and persevere.
“Any regime, at the end of the road, has a return to the light, or at this time it is more frantic to achieve its totalitarian rule through repression, in the successive dynasties, or before the new state of political life, there is this event, this stage,” he said. “But the darker the night is, the closer it is to the dawn. So what is the most important thing at this time? We have to stand firm and hold on to the night, keep watch and call for the dawn.”