Police in Beijing held “anti-terrorism” exercises on Friday on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the publication of a hard-line editorial in a ruling Chinese Communist Party newspaper that triggered the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement crackdown.
"City police took part in an anti-riot exercise in a bid to boost their ability to maintain stability in the capital, as well as to protect the lives and property of the public," the Beijing municipal police department said in a post to its official microblog account.
"More than 600 personnel from the criminal detective squad, security and riot police, border guards, air and traffic police, and fire and emergency medical services ... took part," it said.
The exercise was aimed at improving emergency response tactics and cooperation between different police squads, official media reported, showing photos of riot squads and vehicles carrying water cannons lined up as police officers brandished wooden weapons in a bid to simulate a violent mob, China Radio International reported.
Fires, scrapped cars and tires were employed to simulate real-life situations, it said in a caption to a photo showing black smoke and flames spiraling to the sky in Beijing's Fangshan district.
China sees thousands of "mass incidents" annually, yet the exercise was the first of its kind by police in the Chinese capital, the Legal Evening News website reported.
Activists said the government appeared keen to show itself capable of handling any incidents of mass unrest.
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said the exercises come 25 years after an April 26 editorial in the Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper announced a "no-tolerance" policy to students and other protesters occupying Tiananmen Square.
"This year is the 25th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown ... and tomorrow is the anniversary of the April 26 editorial, which was titled 'We Must Take a Clear Stand Against Unrest'," Hu said.
"We are now entering the most sensitive period leading up to June 4, which is why we're seeing these so-called anti-terrorism [exercises]," he said.
"These [images of police] with guns and shields in full riot gear will be seen by a lot of people via the media," Hu said.
"They will probably not dare take to the streets or hold any sort of protest now."
The editorial was penned by China's top leadership during an April 25 meeting of the all-powerful Politburo standing committee meeting at the residence of then-supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.
The committee took the line that the students' aim was to overthrow the regime and its political system, a position which enraged the students at the time. The official verdict on the movement, which brought central Beijing to a standstill for several weeks, remains one of "counterrevolutionary rebellion."
Beijing-based rights activist Wang Debang agreed that the government was making a show of force on Friday.
"This shows us that social conflict has become the norm in China today," Wang said. "For an exercise like this to be openly publicized on the Internet ... means they are trying to prevent a situation like this from happening."
Online reaction to the exercises was mixed, with some supporting the move, and others linking it to the 25th anniversary.
"It's nearly the 25th anniversary and I heard there is some kind of activity," wrote user @Twoisall on a popular social media site.
Meanwhile, user @erliangxiaomianbuyaotang added: "Is 1989 going to happen all over again?"
And user @Banluejuweng wrote: "They treat the people as their enemy, and practice 'sorting them out'. Time and again, they are sending the message that 'troublemakers' will end up in a sorry state, so that no one will dare to make trouble ever again."
Chinese authorities keep relatives of those who died in the 1989 military crackdown around Tiananmen Square under house arrest and close surveillance as the politically sensitive anniversary approaches each year, beginning ahead of the traditional Chinese grave-sweeping festival in April.
The 1989 movement began when thousands took to the streets on grave-sweeping festival in a show of mass public mourning for late ousted premier Hu Yaobang, who had been instrumental in righting many of the injustices of the Mao era.
His successor Zhao Ziyang was also ousted for taking a conciliatory line towards the 1989 student movement, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest, where he died in January 2005.
Political activists are typically also prevented from holding any kind of public memorial to mark the crackdown, in which the People's Liberation Army (PLA) used machine guns and tanks against unarmed protesters and hunger-striking students.
Number of deaths
The number of people killed when PLA tanks and troops entered Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989 remains a mystery.
Beijing authorities once put the death toll at "nearly 300," but the central government has never issued an official toll or list of names, although it published photos of enraged Beijing citizens attacking PLA troops and setting fire to their vehicles.
The crackdown, which officials said in a news conference at the time was necessary to suppress the "rebellion," sparked a wave of international condemnation, and for several years China was treated as a near-pariah as Western governments offered asylum to student leaders fleeing into exile.
The Chinese Red Cross initially reported 2,600 deaths but quickly retracted its statement, while the Tiananmen Mothers victims' group says it has confirmed 186 deaths, although not all at the hands of the army.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.