Silence and heavy security in China and Hong Kong mark 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown – Metro US

Silence and heavy security in China and Hong Kong mark 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown

Hong Kong Tiananmen Anniversary
Police officers detained a resident in Causeway Bay area on the 35th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown, in Hong Kong, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Chan Long Hei)

BEIJING (AP) — Beijing’s Tiananmen Square had checkpoints and police vehicles Tuesday as China tried to silence the 35th anniversary of a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests. Hong Kong police arrested four people and swarmed a handful of others who tried to protest or commemorate as the effort extended beyond the mainland.

China has long quashed any public memory of the military crackdown on monthslong protests at the heart of its capital. An estimated 180,000 troops and police rolled in with tanks and armored vehicles and fired into crowds trying to block them from advancing on the student-led demonstration in the square.

Hundreds, if not thousands, are believed to have been killed in an overnight operation that ended on the morning of June 4, 1989.

It was a turning point in modern Chinese history as Communist Party hard-liners embraced control instead of political reforms.

The economy boomed in the ensuing decades, turning a once impoverished country into the world’s second largest economy, but societal controls have been tightened since party leader Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.

Across China, the anniversary remains a taboo subject that is heavily censored. Any mention on social media is quickly erased.

Life appeared as normal in Beijing on Tuesday, with tourists lining the streets leading to gates to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, the former imperial palace across from it. The closest subway exit was closed, as was a viewing point atop Tiananmen Gate, according to a visitor registration website.

“As to the political disturbance that occurred in the late 1980s, the Chinese government has long had a clear conclusion,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said without elaborating. Asked about Western government statements on the anniversary, she added, “We are firmly opposed to anyone using this as a pretext to attack and smear China and interfere in China’s internal affairs.”

Tiananmen Mothers, a group formed by families of the victims, made an online appeal to the Chinese government to publish the names and total number of those who died, grant compensation to the victims and their relatives and pursue legal accountability for those responsible.

“The June 4 tragedy is a historical tragedy that the Chinese government must face and explain to its people, and some people in the government at that time should be held legally responsible for the indiscriminate killing of innocents,” the group said in a letter signed by 114 family members and published on its website, which is blocked in China.

Tiananmen memorials were also scrubbed out in Hong Kong — for years the only place in China where they could take place. A carnival organized by pro-Beijing groups was held Tuesday in a park that for decades was the site of a huge candlelight vigil marking the anniversary.

Police officers were out in force.

A woman who wore a T-shirt with the numbers 8964 in Roman numerals was taken away by police, and an older man was detained after holding up two handwritten posters. One read: “Remember 89! Mourn 64!” Hong Kong media said that activist Alexandra Wong, popularly known as “Grandma Wong,” was also removed after she chanted slogans.

An AP journalist saw another woman taken away after being searched.

“It’s different from the past,” said Hong Kong resident Keith Law. “Many people seem to act as if there’s nothing happening, including myself.”

After darkness fell, one person who lit a candle and two others who turned on their smartphone lights were quickly cordoned off by police and questioned outside the park. They were eventually released.

“My heart hasn’t died yet,” said one, former vigil-goer Edward Yeung.

Police said late Tuesday that they arrested four people ages 23 to 69. Among them was a 68-year-old woman detained on suspicion of sedition under the city’s new national security law. Police said she had chanted slogans in public. Local newspapers reported the woman was Wong, quoting unidentified sources.

Two others were accused of assaulting police officers and disorderly conduct in a public place. The remaining suspect was arrested for alleged common assault. Police didn’t identify them.

Authorities also said five other people suspected of “breaching public peace” were taken for further investigation, but all were later released.

Rows of electronic candles lit up the dozens of windows of the American consulate, and the British consulate posted an image on the social media platform X of a hand holding up a smartphone with its light on and the Roman numerals “VIIV,” a reference to June 4. Hong Kong is a former British colony.

Some Hong Kong residents remembered the event privately, running 6.4 kilometers (4 miles) on Monday or sharing Tiananmen-related content on social media.

Hong Kong leader John Lee did not answer directly when asked Tuesday whether residents could still publicly mourn the crackdown.

“The threat to national security is real,” Lee said.

Commemorative events have grown overseas in response to the silencing of voices in Hong Kong.

U.S. lawmakers, former student leaders of the Tiananmen movement and younger activists from mainland China and Hong Kong gathered at commemorations Tuesday in Washington. More than 100 people also held a candlelight vigil Monday night at the foot of a replica of the “Goddess of Democracy,” a statue of a woman holding a torch that was erected on the square during the 1989 protest.

“What has happened in China under the circumstances in the past 35 years has not been positive in terms of global democracy, in terms of human rights, in terms of promoting democratic freedoms,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, former House speaker and a longtime supporter of China’s pro-democracy cause.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the United States stands in solidarity with those who continue the struggle for human rights and freedoms, adding that the sacrifice of the protesters 35 years ago would not be forgotten.

In London, about 300 people outside the Chinese Embassy remembered the dead by turning on the flashlights of their mobile phones in place of candles. Some protesters read out a long list of names of those who died in the crackdown, while others chanted “Free China” and “Free Hong Kong.”

In Taiwan, a self-governing democratic island that China claims as its territory, people laid flowers and put electronic candles on the numbers 8964 — representing June 4, 1989 — on a banner spread on the ground in Taipei, the capital.

“As long as other places can still protest, we must continue to protest,” resident Leo Chiang said.

Leung reported from Hong Kong. Associated Press journalists Emily Wang Fujiyama in Beijing; Johnson Lai in Taipei, Taiwan; and Didi Tang in Washington contributed.

This story was first published on June 4, 2024. It was updated on June 5, 2024, to correct that U.S. lawmakers did not attend a candlelight vigil in Washington to mark the 35th anniversary of Tiananmen Square crackdown in China.