Victim's Mother Hits Out at Foreign Governments Over Tiananmen Secrets


2015-01-29
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china-tiananmen-june-2-1989.jpg Protesters gather in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 2, 1989.
AFP

A mother who lost her 19-year-old son during the 1989 military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square democracy movement  hit out on Thursday at foreign governments for not revealing information about the massacre much sooner.

Speaking in response to recently released Canadian diplomatic cables revealing eyewitness accounts of killings by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in Beijing, Zhang Xianling demanded to know why foreign governments hadn't published what they knew about the crackdown years ago.

"Their notions of humanity and justice have their limits," said Zhang, a prominent member of the Tiananmen Mothers victims' group.

"Why didn't they speak out about this at the time?" she said. "It seems that they are still afraid of what the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party might do."

Zhang said she still doesn't know whether her son Wang Nan died instantly after being shot on a street to the south of the Square, or whether soldiers prevented an ambulance from taking him for emergency treatment, as one account suggests.

Meanwhile, analysts said the trove of diplomatic cables unearthed from Canadian archives by the Ottawa-based Blacklock's Reporter news website, are unlikely to have much impact on Beijing's official line on the bloodshed.

The cables, the result of a freedom of information request by Blacklock's journalist Tom Korski, give a glimpse of the horror of Beijing-based diplomats as the government put an end to several weeks of student-led protests on Tiananmen Square.

Harrowing accounts

One Telex described the crackdown as "savage," while others cited harrowing interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses as the army drove columns of tanks into the heart of Beijing and fired automatic weapons at unarmed citizens.

"An old woman knelt in front of soldiers pleading for students; soldiers killed her," the Canadian Embassy in Beijing reported in a Telex sent back to headquarters.

Another cable said: "A boy was seen trying to escape holding a woman with a 2-year old child in a stroller, and was run over by a tank."

It said the PLA tank "turned around and mashed them up," while PLA soldiers "fired machine guns until the ammo ran out."

Bullets had also "ricocheted inside nearby houses, killing many residents," the account said.

The number of people killed when PLA tanks and troops entered Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989, putting an end to weeks of mass protests that paralyzed central Beijing, remains a mystery.

Not all the victims were civilians, as citizens in some areas took makeshift weapons to fight back. Canadian cables refer to bodies being dragged out of a Beijing canal which appeared to be those of garroted soldiers.

Chinese officials once put the death toll at "nearly 300," but the central government, which labeled the six weeks of pro-democracy protests a "counterrevolutionary uprising," has not issued an official toll or list of names.

New era of repression

Canadian diplomats, writing shortly after the massacre, said it appeared to have ushered in a period of political repression.

"It was probably thought that the massacre of a few hundreds or thousands would convince the population not to pursue their protests. It seems to be working," one cable states.

A Telex dated June 15, 1989, reported: "The country is now being controlled by a group of vicious elderly generals and the government is run by people who will blindly follow their orders."

It added: "The situation looks grim at best."

Another cable said: "They are now entering a period of vicious repression during which denunciations and fear of persecution will terrorize the population."

A quarter-century later, the ruling Chinese Communist Party still bans Tiananmen-related public memorials, and some high-profile activists detained for marking the 25th anniversary of the crackdown in May 2014 remain behind bars today.

Calls for reappraisal

The party has continued to ignore growing calls in China and from overseas for a reappraisal of the 1989 student protests, as well as for official accounts of the violence to be published and victims counted and named.

Melbourne-based Ruan Jie, who edits the Tiananmen Times newspaper, said foreign cables still can't reveal the details that most people want to know about the events of June 1989.

"Unless the Chinese Communist Party's internal documents are released, that would probably explain quite a few things," Ruan told RFA.

He said a key indicator to look out for is the attitude of the current leadership to late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, who died 10 years ago on Jan. 17.

"You can tell from their attitude to Zhao Ziyang that the June 4 crackdown was a repudiation of his [pro-reform] policies," Ruan said.

"It's unlikely that they will reappraise or set right the official verdict on June 4 if they haven't already set in place democratic reforms," he said.

He said the continuing persecution of dissidents, democracy campaigners, and rights activists is another key indicator that the authorities won't change their attitude to the events of May and June 1989.

Democracy, rule of law


Former 1989 student leader Wang Debang, now an independent writer, agreed.

"It depends more on internal forces that play off against each other within the system," Wang said.

"Since the June 4 massacre, Chinese society has become ever more corrupt," he said, citing the past two years of President Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign which "lifted the veil on corrupt practices that nobody even understood."

"[This has] made Chinese people think back to the days when the student movement called for the overthrow of corrupt officials and an anti-corruption campaign," he said.

"Now they see the value of the democracy and rule of law that the students were fighting for," Wang said.

Requests to transfer wealth


Among the Canadian cables was one alleging that "every member of the all-powerful Politburo standing committee" had approached the then-Swiss ambassador to Beijing, wanting to transfer large sums of money to Swiss bank accounts.

"For obvious reasons, he has urged us to guard this information with the utmost care," the cable said.

But Erwin Schurtenberger, the Swiss ambassador to China from April 1988 to April 1995, told The New York Times' Sinosphere blog that the report "sounds absurd."

"How would or could anybody of this top elite group contact a foreign envoy, given the tight controls?" Schurtenberger said in a written response to the cables.

"Nobody of the ruling elite or anybody else had contacted me in this context."

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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