The 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, when Beijing sent troops and tanks to quell pro-democracy activists, is not spoken of openly in China and will not be formally marked by the government.

A police vehicle is deployed in Tiananmen Square on the 30th anniversary of the crackdown on student-led protests by Beijing. June 6, 2019.
A police vehicle is deployed in Tiananmen Square on the 30th anniversary of the crackdown on student-led protests by Beijing. June 6, 2019. (Thomas Peter / Reuters)

China on Tuesday slammed Mike Pompeo for "lunatic ravings and babbling nonsense" after the US secretary of state criticised Beijing's human rights record. Pompeo's statement was issued on the 30th anniversary of the brutal crackdown on student-led protests at Tiananmen Square.

Pompeo's statement "maliciously attacks China's political system, denigrates the state of China's human rights and religious affairs, wantonly criticises China's Xinjiang policy and severely interferes in China's domestic affairs", foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a regular press briefing.

"These lunatic ravings and babbling nonsense will only end up in the trash can of history."

The anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, when Beijing sent troops and tanks to quell pro-democracy activists, is not spoken of openly in China and will not be formally marked by the government, which has ramped up censorship.

Among the students' demands in 1989 were a free press and freedom of speech, disclosure of leaders' assets and freedom to demonstrate. 

However, exiled former protest leaders say those goals are further away in China than ever before because the government has in the past decade suppressed a civil society nurtured by years of economic development.

China has never released a final death toll from the events on and around June 4. Estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to thousands.

Silence in the 30 years since

China stepped up security around Tiananmen Square in central Beijing on Tuesday.

Extra checkpoints and street closures greeted tourists who showed up before 5 am to watch the daily flag-raising ceremony at the square. An honour 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.

For many Chinese, the 30th anniversary 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.

Tiananmen also remains a point of contention between China and many Western countries, which have implored Chinese leaders to account for giving the People's Liberation Army the order to open fire on their own people.

"People in China are still unable to exercise their right to protest peacefully," Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement.

"The Chinese government not only did not plan to repent for the past mistake, but it also continued to cover up the truth," Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said in a Facebook post.

"Please be reassured - Taiwan will definitely defend democracy and freedom. Regardless of threats and infiltration, as long as I'm the president, Taiwan will not bow to pressure," she said.

Students at the University of Hong Kong clean
Students at the University of Hong Kong clean "The pillar of shame" statue which honours those killed in the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. Thousands are expected at a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong later. June 4, 2019. (AP)

Security tight in Tiananmen

There were no signs of any protests or other memorial events around the Square.

Tourists thronged Beijing's Tiananmen Square on Tuesday amid tighter-than-usual security, although most visitors approached by Reuters said they were unaware of the crackdown or would not discuss it.

A 67-year-old man surnamed Li, sitting on a bench about a 10-minute walk from the square on Tuesday, said he remembered the events of June 4, 1989, and its aftermath clearly.

"I was on my way back home from work. Changan Avenue was strewn with burned-out vehicles. The People's Liberation Army killed many people. It was a bloodbath," he said.

Asked if he thought the government should give a full account of the violence, he said: "What's the point? These students died for nothing."

Wiping out collective memory

Beijing has gone to exhaustive lengths to prevent commemorations of the crackdown in which hundreds of unarmed civilians, and possibly more than 1,000, were killed.

The Chinese statements on Tuesday referred only to "the political incident of the late 1980s," and said China's government and people long ago "reached the verdict" on it.

"China's human rights are in the best period ever," the Chinese embassy in Washington said.

"China is firmly committed to the path of peaceful development and to the development of human rights in China and the whole world and has made significant contribution to the international human rights governance. This is a fact that is recognised by all unbiased people."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies