The United States Wednesday called on China to openly examine the 1989 military crackdown on protestors in Tiananmen Square and provide a public accounting of those killed, missing or detained. In a statement on Thursday's 20th anniversary of the events in Beijing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said China should give human rights the same priority that it does economic reform.
The U.S. statement contained sharper language than those made on previous anniversaries of the Tiananmen events, and it was issued in the name of Secretary of State Clinton, who drew criticism earlier year this for seeming to downplay human rights on the eve of a visit to China.
Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley read the statement at the department's daily briefing on behalf of Clinton, who was en route from Honduras to Egypt to attend President Obama's Cairo address on U.S.-Muslim relations.
It urged remembrance and reflection on what was termed "the tragic loss of hundreds of innocent lives" in the military operation against protesters, and said China should deal openly with what transpired.
"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. 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," he said.
The statement called on China to cease harassment of participants in the protests and begin dialogue with family members of the victims. It said China should honor the memory of that day by moving to give the rule of law, protection of human rights and democratic development the same priority it has given to economic reform.
Clinton came under criticism from human rights groups and others in February, when on the eve of her first visit to China as Secretary, she said U.S. advocacy of human rights with China cannot "interfere" with U.S.-China dialogue on crucial issues including the global economic crisis, climate change and regional security.
Under questioning here, Assistant Secretary Crowley said there was no inconsistency between Wednesday's statement and Clinton's earlier remarks and said human rights is a "fundamental element" in a crowded U.S. agenda with China.
"It is paramount on our list. But I think the Secretary is communicating that we're not going to take a cookie-cutter approach to human rights. We will bring it up as appropriate with every country with which we have those issues. But she is interested in making sure that we address this in a way that is going to be most effective. And in some cases that will be public, and some cases that will be private, and in some cases that will be both," he said.
Crowley said under questioning the Obama administration credits China with progress in human rights-related areas since 1989 including combating corruption and protecting property rights, but said political reform lags behind China's economic progress.
On reports that Chinese censors have blocked some Internet services to prevent citizens from discussing the Tiananmen anniversary, he lamented that many Chinese are unfamiliar with the 1989 events and said the United States "would prefer to see a China that's prepared to learn from history, rather than try to hide it."