Taiwan Looks Back At Own Repressive Past Ahead of Tiananmen Anniversary

image.png Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen (c) meets with Chinese democracy activists in Taipei on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, June 3, 2019.
Taiwan President's Office.

Three decades after the Tiananmen massacre and 40 years after its own crackdown on the pro-democracy movement under one-party rule, the democratic island of Taiwan has called on China's ruling Communist Party to show remorse for the killing and maiming of unarmed civilians by its People's Liberation Army (PLA) in 1989.

"China has to sincerely repent for the June 4 incident and proactively push for democratic reforms," Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 massacre.

"We earnestly admonish the Chinese authorities to face up to the historical mistake, and sincerely apologize as soon as possible."

The council said Beijing had been telling lies to cover up the events of 1989 and distorting the truth.

The statement came as Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen drew parallels with Taiwan's own past under the one-party rule of the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT), which imposed martial law on the island for 38 years with scant tolerance for dissent.

Citing the Formosa Incident of Dec. 10, 1979, when police clashed with opposition protesters known as the Tangwai ahead of mass arrests and convictions of pro-democracy activists, Tsai said the paths of China and Taiwan, which still bears the official name of the 1911 Republic of China founded by the KMT, had diverged sharply since that point.

"Tomorrow is the 30th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 massacre, and this year also marks the 40th anniversary of the Formosa Incident in Taiwan," Tsai said.

"Both were key turning points in history, and democratic reforms proceeded at starkly different paces in China and Taiwan after those points," she said. "Thirty or 40 years ago, Taiwan stood at a crossroads, but then it chose the road to freedom and democracy."

"Sadly, while China has seen economic progress since then, there has been a marked decrease in freedom and human rights," she said.

Far from easy

Taiwan's path to democracy was far from easy, Tsai said.

"During the trials [that followed the Formosa Incident], our brave pioneers of democracy faced them with courage ... and they have been a huge inspiration to the generations who have come after," she said.

"It has been a hard road, but, now that we are here, I'd like to express thanks to those who came before us," Tsai said.

She warned that the island must do everything it can to protect its democratic values.

"There used to be political prisoners in Taiwan, and we never want to see that happen again," Tsai said. "So we will continue to stand up for democratic values, but we also care deeply about the development of human rights and democracy in mainland China."

"We hope that China, too, will take this long, hard road one day, and we will do everything we can to help," she said.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that China's achievements under the ruling Chinese Party in the past 70 years showed that the decisions taken in 1989 were the right ones.

"The achievements ... fully prove that the development path we have chosen is completely correct," Geng told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

The Global Times newspaper, which is closely linked to party mouthpiece the People's Daily, said the massacre had "immunized China against turmoil."

"Merely afflicting China once, the incident has not become a long-term nightmare for the country,” the paper said in an editorial.

While public discussion or commemoration of the massacre is banned in China, the paper hit out at activists outside China for continuing to remind everyone of the events of 1989.

"All these noises will have no real impact on Chinese society," it said. "The actions of the external forces are completely in vain."

A human rights vacuum for 30 years

Shih Yi-hsiang of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights said Chinese citizens have been living in a human rights vacuum for the past 30 years.

He cited the use of the military to suppress opposition in Tibet, the mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, and the jailing of Taiwan democracy activist Lee Ming-cheh by authorities in China.

"China urgently needs a thorough transformation, which would require the attention of governments and people all over the world," Shih said.

In a Jan. 2 speech titled "Letter to our Taiwan compatriots," Chinese President Xi Jinping said that Taiwan must be "unified" with China, and refused to rule out the use of military force to annex the island.

But Tsai has repeatedly said that Taiwan's 23 million population have no wish to give up their sovereignty.

Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the Kuomintang (KMT) government as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.

It has never been controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China.

The island began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang Kai-shek's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.

Reported by Hwang Chun-mei for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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