WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States demanded on Wednesday that China account for those killed in the Tiananmen Square protests in rare public criticism ahead of the 20th anniversary of the government crackdown on the demonstrations.
One day before the anniversary, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also called on China to release all those still imprisoned in connection with the pro-democracy protests, to stop harassing those who took part in them and to begin a dialogue with the victims’ families.
The demands, issued in a written statement from Clinton, reflect views Washington has long held but represent a tougher stance on China’s human rights record than the top U.S. diplomat had taken in her first four months in the job.
In February, Clinton disappointed many rights groups by saying that human rights issues could not “interfere with” tackling the global financial crisis, climate change and security challenges such as North Korea’s nuclear programs.
“A China that has made enormous progress economically and is emerging to take its rightful place in global leadership should examine openly the darker events of its past and provide a public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, both to learn and to heal,” Clinton said in the statement.
“This anniversary provides an opportunity for Chinese authorities to release from prison all those still serving sentences in connection with the events surrounding June 4, 1989,” she added in the statement read by State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
Chinese security forces blanketed Tiananmen Square before Thursday’s 20th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, and a day after Twitter and other Internet services in China were blocked.
Black police vans lurked at the side of the Forbidden City, near the square, while police and paramilitary forces patrolled through crowds of tourists.
Tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square before dawn on June 4, 1989 to crush weeks of student and worker protests. The ruling Communist Party, which has never released a death toll, fears any commemoration could challenge its hold on power.
Crowley said China had made some progress on human rights in the two decades since the Tiananmen protests were crushed, citing efforts by local authorities to crack down on corruption and to protect property rights.
Asked if the heavy police presence around Tiananmen Square constituted progress, Crowley replied: “No. It is not.”
“We would prefer to see a China that’s prepared to learn from history rather than trying to hide it,” he added. “This is inconsistent with the actions of a great power.”
Dennis Wilder, an analyst who specializes in Asian affairs, said Clinton’s demands represented previous U.S. positions but her statement ahead of the anniversary was a powerful signal.
“To be this publicly forceful, I think, is a stepping up of the criticism,” said Wilder, who was until January the senior director for Asian affairs on the White House National Security Council under former U.S. President George W. Bush.
Editing by Eric Walsh