A Hidden Massacre

Kavya Singh

Riddled with history, China and Taiwan have come to represent another frugal crack across the Asian continent. As the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Massacre approaches, the relationship between the two states further deteriorates.  Hailed as the June fourth incident or Six-Four in Mainland China, the imposition of martial law sparked demonstrations that were forcibly suppressed by the military authorities. Among the students’ demands were a free press and freedom of speech, disclosure of leaders’ assets, and freedom to demonstrate. Tanks were sent in to quell months of student-led pro-democracy protests on the night of June 3rd, 1989, with the operation ending the following morning. Though Beijing has never released a full death toll concerning the incident and heavily censors reporting on the event, estimates from human rights groups, and witnesses put the death toll between several hundred to several thousand people. Each year, as the anniversary approaches, the relatives of those killed by the army, including the mothers of school pupils gunned down in cold blood, are placed under surveillance or taken on enforced trips out of town.

In a statement on Monday, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council accused China of telling “lies” about the incident on June 4, 1989, which saw Chinese troops open fire on demonstrators in the capital following weeks of student-led rallies calling for political reform in the communist party-ruled country. “We earnestly admonish the Chinese authorities to face up to the historical mistake, and sincerely apologize as soon as possible,” the council’s statement said. The events in Tiananmen square remain a point of contention between China and many Western countries as well, which have implored the country’s leaders to admit ordering the People’s Liberation Army to open fire on protesters. U.S.  Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo called on Beijing on Monday to mark the anniversary by releasing all prisoners jailed for fighting human rights abuses in China. He said: “Such a step would begin to demonstrate the Communist Party’s willingness to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Despite criticism, the People’s Republic of China refuses to accept any wrongdoing and in response to Taiwan’s statement, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe defended authorities’ handling of the Tiananmen Square protests as the “correct policy”. He added that China’s development since 1989 showed that the government’s actions were justified. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council described the remarks defending the handling of the demonstrations as “incredible”. “It proves that them keeping saying ‘Chinese people don’t attack Chinese people’ is a gargantuan lie,” the council’s statement said.

The back-and-forth took place amid a ramping up of pressure by China on Taiwan, which holds presidential elections in January, with Beijing whittling away at the island’s few remaining diplomatic allies and regularly sending air force jets close to the territory. Chinese authorities suspect President Tsai Ing-wen and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party of pushing formal independence for Taiwan, a red line for Beijing. Tsai has repeatedly said she wants to maintain the status quo but has also vowed to defend the island’s democracy. Beijing claims self-ruled and democratic Taiwan as its sacred territory, to be taken back by force if necessary. On Sunday, Chinese Defence Minister Wei warned that the military would fight “if anyone dares to split Taiwan from China”. This has caused tensions to rise which clearly pose a threat to the peace and security of the region.