EDITORIAL: Remembering the Tiananmen spirit

2 weeks ago

While the world just commemorated the 35th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square Massacre in China, it should also keep an eye out on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) escalating suppression of freedom and democracy.

From the night of June 3, 1989, to dawn of the next day, convoys of Chinese troops and tanks entered central Beijing to clear Tiananmen Square, where hundreds of thousands of students and other people had gathered to demand political reforms and freedoms. While refusing to acknowledge responsibility for the killings, the CCP government has never released an official death toll, but estimates range from several hundred to a few thousand.

To this day, the massacre remains a taboo in China. The Chinese authorities strictly censor all mentions of the incident, and any commemoration could lead to imprisonment. This year, Chinese police completely blocked off Tiananmen Square and online posts on the subject were removed.

The Tiananmen incident has had a massive impact on Chinese, especially the young generation. Taking the “blank paper” protests across China in 2022 as an example, young Chinese have learned to fight for their rights in a way that is more peaceful, but which could spread rapidly, even as Chinese authorities have launched a slew of laws in the name of national security to suppress dissidents.

In Hong Kong, which used to be the only place on Chinese soil that could hold a vigil for the Tiananmen massacre victims, people were inspired by the Tiananmen protesters to launch the “Umbrella movement” in 2014 to demand a democratic direct chief executive election and the “anti-extradition law movement” in 2019 to push for the revocation of an extradition bill violating Hong Kong’s autonomy.

However, since its handover in 1999 to China, Hong Kong has also become an example of how Chinese authoritarian rule erodes democracy and freedoms. Just like how the autonomy of people in Tibet and the Uyghurs in Xinjiang were slashed.

On the eve of the Tiananmen incident’s 35th anniversary, the Hong Kong police arrested at least eight people over social media posts commemorating the tragedy.

Hong Kong courts also found 14 democracy advocates guilty of subversion under the Beijing-imposed National Security Law.

In Taiwan, the spirit of pursuing democracy and freedom demonstrated by Tiananmen protesters also influenced the young people who initiated the Wild Lily movement in 1990, the Wild Strawberry movement in 2008, and the Sunflower movement in 2014 to protest arbitrary legislation to open up trade with China that could sabotage Taiwan’s economy.

This spirit was also seen in the last month’s Bluebird movement that saw 100,000 civilians surround the legislature in Taipei to call for the revocation of unconstitutional amendments that were pushed by the opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party to expand the powers of the opposition-controlled legislature.

Those controversial bills have simultaneously aroused concerns that China could infiltrate and influence pro-China lawmakers to cripple Taiwan’s governance and democracy.

China’s 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square once sparked a profound crisis in Beijing’s relations with Western democracies. On the 35th anniversary of the tragedy, the international community should note China’s brutal violations of civil rights at home, as well as its coercive threats of neighbors that could undermine the international order and global democracy.

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