(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. and Taiwan led criticism of China on the 30th anniversary of the military’s bloody crackdown on protesters, prompting authorities in Beijing to decry attempts to “bully” the nation.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed the “heroes” who protested at Tiananmen in 1989, calling on China to make a full accounting of the dead and free political prisoners. Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said China should apologize to its people for the attack on pro-democracy protesters, which left hundreds or even thousands dead, and Hong Kong ensured it would allow residents to freely commemorate the event at an evening vigil.
China’s embassy to the U.S. said Pompeo’s statement “grossly intervenes in China’s internal affairs, attacks its system, and smears its domestic and foreign policies.”
“Whoever attempts to patronize and bully the Chinese people in any name, or preach a ‘clash of civilizations’ to resist the trend of times, will never succeed,” the embassy said. “They will only end up in the ash heap of history.”
Commemorating June 4, 1989, is forbidden in mainland China, where the government has virtually scrubbed the events from history books and the Internet. Censors have put the country’s social media sites on lockdown ahead of the anniversary, which comes right in the middle of an escalating trade spat between the U.S. and China that some fear will spiral into a new cold war.
Pompeo’s statement took aim at China’s one-party state, saying it “tolerates no dissent and abuses human rights whenever it serves its interests.” He said hopes that China’s integration into the international system would lead to an open society had been “dashed,” citing abuses against Muslim Uighurs in the western region of Xinjiang as the latest example.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen took to Twitter on Tuesday to mark the anniversary. “Rest assured that despite threats and subversion, Taiwan will unconditionally defend democracy and safeguard freedom,” she said in a tweet addressed to “freedom-loving friends in Hong Kong & China” beneath the words, “lest we forget June 4.”
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, whose city was a refuge for demonstrators in the crackdown’s wake, said public remembrance of the events should be respected -- even as fears grow about an erosion of freedoms in the Asian financial hub.
“Hong Kong is a very free society,” she told reporters on Tuesday. “We uphold and safeguard the rights and freedoms of individuals in Hong Kong, so today if there are public gatherings to express their views and feelings on a particular historic event, we fully respect those views.”
The largest such public gathering in the city saw more than 180,000 participants gather in Victoria Park on Tuesday night, according to the organizers -- the largest turnout since the vigils begun in 1990. Hong Kong’s police downplayed that figure, saying 37,000 attended at its peak.
Amid a sea of flickering candlelight, many were seated on plastic covers and stools as the ground was wet from a rainstorm earlier in the day. Organizers offered flowers at a replica of Beijing’s Monument to the People’s Heroes, placed in the middle of the park for the vigil.
Loudspeakers blasted “Bloodstained Glory,” a patriotic song originally written to commemorate the fallen soldiers in the 1979 Sino-Vietnam war, but which later became an anthem to remember the Tiananmen protests.
“People will not forget! Vindicate June 4! Release the Dissidents! End One-Party Dictatorship! Build a Democratic China!” the crowd chanted after the song ended.
Crowds also gathered Tuesday evening in Taiwan to share remembrances. The event’s co-organizer, New School of Democracy Chairman Tseng Chien-yuan, said the turnout about doubled to 500-1,000 this year. Taiwan’s Vice President Chen Chien-jen was in attendance, who Tseng said is the highest-level government official to have participated in the vigil.
Security was tighter than usual around Tiananmen and the Forbidden City in central Beijing on Tuesday, as plainclothes officers wearing earpieces and radios on their belts lingered in the streets.
China has been vocal in its pushback against criticism of Tiananmen, which marks just one of a series of politically sensitive anniversaries facing President Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party.
Top Chinese general and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe defended the army’s bloody crackdown in a weekend speech, saying it was the correct move that led to 30 years of stability in what is now the world’s second-largest economy.
“The central government took decisive measures, and the military took measures to stop it and calm the turmoil,” he said at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. “This is the right way. It is the reason the stability of the country has been maintained.”
At the Hong Kong vigil, Charlie Chan, 28, a university student from the city, stood listening to a speech by a Tiananmen survivor.
“It’s like the struggle of Hong Kong’s people,” he said. “They too fear being forgotten like the people in Tiananmen -- it was a crime against humanity.”
(Updates with Hong Kong vigil attendance in tenth paragraph.)
--With assistance from Dominic Lau, Samson Ellis, Terrence Dopp, Peter Martin, Ryan Lovdahl, Chris Kay, Blake Schmidt and Karen Leigh.
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