WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 50 exiled Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protesters reunited on Thursday to remember the crackdown 20 years ago, criticizing China’s government and the U.S. embrace of authoritarian Beijing.
In the type of commemorative rally the Chinese government smothered back home, the Tiananmen survivors’ reunion in Washington featured prominent 1989 protesters, including a man who lost both of his legs when he was run over by a tank sent to crush weeks of student and worker demonstrations.
The tragedy is “that we have been forgotten” by China’s youth who do not learn about the killings, and neglected by a world eager to court Beijing for business,” said Su Xiaokang, a leading intellectual force behind the 1989 protests.
Prominent student protest leader Wang Dan leveled sharp criticism at the communist-ruled government that jailed him then sent him into exile in 1998, saying that corruption and repression remain unchanged and the political reforms they sought 20 years ago had yet to materialize.
But the 40-year-old activist and his colleagues also sounded an alarm at China’s global influence and the U.S. and other Western governments that did not challenge China as they relied on it for export markets, loans and diplomatic help.
“It is not the rise of China, but the rise of the Chinese Communist Party,” said student leader Chen Pokung, who called for wariness about China’s motives.
“The U.S. government has made many mistakes in appeasing China in the past and I’m concerned the current government will repeat that,” added Su.
OBAMA ADMINISTRATION FAULTED
The United States faces a big challenge in balancing its role as democracy champion against the need to work with China on global challenges like North Korea’s nuclear weapons, the financial crisis and the environment, say analysts.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton marked the anniversary by calling on China to release all those still imprisoned in connection with the protests, to stop harassing those who took part and to begin a dialogue with the victims’ families.
Clinton’s statement was dismissed by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as “crude meddling.” But the Chinese dissidents in Washington and some U.S. lawmakers said she hadn’t done enough on human rights.
“During the Bush administration I didn’t think the U.S. did a satisfactory job in terms of human rights in China,” said Wang Tiancheng, a former Peking University law professor who served five years in jail for protesting in 1989.
“Now I’m afraid the new administration might be doing less and worse,” the Columbia University researcher added.
Republican congressman Chris Smith told another of several Tiananmen commemorations in the U.S. capital that the stances on human rights in China of the past three administrations and Congress had been feckless.
Commemorating Tiananmen should have been the “the White House’s major event” on June 4, instead of President Barack Obama’s speech to the Muslim world, he said. Smith also faulted Clinton for playing down rights in favor of cooperation on the financial crisis during a February trip to Beijing.
“Wittingly or not, that attitude enables the Chinese dictatorship to continue brutalizing its own people,” he said.
Illustrating the U.S. conundrum, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a long-time champion of the pro-democracy movement, visited China last month to discuss climate change, rather than human rights, although she did privately raise political prisoner cases in Beijing.
Some of the Tiananmen protest veterans criticized Pelosi’s trip. But on Thursday she stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them at two rallies at the U.S. Capitol Building.
“Did you ever think 20 years ago, when we saw what was happening in Tiananmen Square, that 20 years later ... that we’d be here today still making the same appeal to the Chinese government?” she asked.
“Peaceful evolution, well, that just simply didn’t work. I wish it would have,” added Pelosi.
Editing by Eric Beech
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