U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Wang Dan, Su Xiaokang, Liane Lee, Henry Li and other student leaders and survivors
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Liane Lee, Su Xiaokang, Wang Dan, and Henry Li, left to right, student leaders and survivors of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, June 2, 2020. (Mike Pompeo, Twitter)

WASHINGTON - The United States marked the anniversary of China’s deadly 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square by reiterating the call for “a full, public accounting of those killed or missing.”

Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Liane Lee, Su Xiaokang, Wang Dan and Henry Li, student leaders and survivors  of the protests that were brutally put down by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on June 4, 1989. 

“Thirty-one years later, the total number of missing or dead Tiananmen protesters is still unknown,” said State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus in a Wednesday statement. “We reiterate our call for a full, public accounting of those killed or missing.”

The student-led pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square began on April 15, 1989, following the death of Hu Yaobang, a former CCP leader, who had worked to introduce democratic reform in China. The protests, which continued throughout the spring, focused corruption among China’s elite as the protestors called for democratic reforms, and a fairer and more open society.

“The United States continues to applaud their aspirations, and the American people stand with the families still grieving their lost loved ones, including the courageous Tiananmen Mothers who have never stopped seeking accountability for their children’s deaths, despite great personal hardship and risk,” said Ortagus.

Although China has never released an official death toll for the massacre, human rights groups believe several hundred to several thousand people were killed when tanks rolled through Tiananmen Square to squelch the demonstrations on June 4 and June 5. Tiananmen means “Gate of Heavenly Peace.”

Earlier Wednesday, Taiwan called for Beijing to apologize for the crackdown and account for what happened.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson rejected the criticism.

People wearing face masks, following the coronavirus disease outbreak, ride a bus past a portrait of late Chinese chairman Mao Zedong on Tiananmen Gate, in Beijing on June 3, 2020.

“The relevant remarks of the Taiwan authorities are totally nonsense,” Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing.  “As to the political disturbance in the late 1980s, China has drawn a clear conclusion.”

Mainland China has long banned commemorations of the crackdown, censored mentions of it online and banned it from school curriculum.

Since 1990, an annual vigil in Hong Kong marking the Tiananmen Square crackdown has been attended by tens of thousands of people.

But for the first time in three decades, Hong Kong government banned this year’s vigil, citing coronavirus concerns. It comes soon after China moved ahead with a plan to impose a national security law in Hong Kong.

People cycle past Tiananmen gate on the eve of the 31st anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests, in Beijing on June 3, 2020.


“With this ban, and a disastrous national security law looming, it is not clear if Hong Kong’s Tiananmen vigil will ever be allowed to take place again,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East and South East Asia Joshua Rosenzweig.

Wednesday evening, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor is hosting a virtual vigil to mark the 31st anniversary of Tiananmen Square.

“We are determined not to allow the CCP to erase the memory of Tiananmen Square, and hope this Virtual Candlelight Vigil will inspire human rights advocates around the world,” said a senior official.

Tensions between the U.S. and China continue to escalate over COVID-19, Hong Kong, trade, Taiwan and other issues.

On Wednesday, the U.S. announced it will prohibit Chinese airlines from entering the country beginning on June 16 as part of an effort to pressure Beijing to allow American air carriers to resume flights to China.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said the move came after China did not conform with an existing deal between the two countries that addresses international travel.

China’s recent decision to pass a national security law that would bypass Hong Kong’s legislature to impose potentially draconian restrictions on Hong Kong citizens’ civil liberties was met with strong criticism from countries including Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

“We must internationalize the Hong Kong issue as much as possible,” said a group of American experts and former U.S. officials.

“We should encourage U.S. legislation requiring appointment of a Special Envoy on Hong Kong who would be responsible for sustaining attention to the issue internationally and encouraging legislation and policies that track with the U.S. Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act,” said the experts from Washington-based Center of Strategic and International Studies.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced last Friday his decision to ban Chinese "certain” students and researchers with connections to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) or other Chinese security services from the United States, citing concerns over “illicit espionage to steal our industrial secrets.”

China pushed back, saying Washington is “taking a backward step” that will only bring harm.

“The latest visa restriction on Chinese students and researchers was imposed by the U.S. side under an abused concept of national security and flimsy excuses. It severely undermines their legitimate rights and interests and runs counter to the common aspiration for friendly people-to-people, especially youth-to-youth exchange,” said Zhao, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson during a Tuesday briefing.

A senior State Department official said the number of Chinese nationals affected would be limited, adding Washington continues to welcome the majority of Chinese students who want to study at American universities.

"Because these calculations could vary significantly year on year and in order to preserve the potential effectiveness of this program, we won't characterize the breadth of its application beyond our estimate that it will affect only a small percentage of Chinese students and researchers,” said the official.