Twenty-eight years after Tiananmen

Twenty-eight years after the June 4,1989, violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the human rights situation in China continues to worsen as President Xi Jinping’ regime tightens its political regimentation drive. At a time when the Chinese Communist Party prepares to holds its convention this fall — an event that takes place once every five years — The Xi government is tightening security measures against “socially disturbing” elements. It continues to ignore citizens’ calls for the disclosure of facts about the Tiananmen incident, including the military’s killing of many demonstrators.

Along with its aggressive maritime policy, China’s suppression of human rights damages its international image. The Xi regime should try to stabilize Chinese society by promoting democratization instead of taking an iron-fist approach. Democratic reforms at home, hand in hand with a peaceful maritime policy, would help China be perceived by the international community as a rising power that can be trusted.

The Chinese government has justified the slaying of citizens in the Tiananmen incident by calling the protests a counter-revolutionary rebellion. An association of mothers of youths who were killed has repeatedly called on the government to disclose the truth about the incident, punish those responsible for the killings and pay compensation. The authorities continue to ignore these demands and keep the mothers under surveillance.

Prior to the 28th anniversary of the incident, the mothers said that unless the Communist Party and the government accept their responsibility for their “crimes against people,” the rule of law will be an empty theory. A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry replied to the effect that China’s development since the incident proves that the government’s actions against the Tiananmen protesters were justified.

After taking the reins of power in 2013, Xi not only aggressively cracked down on corruption by elite officials but also vociferously stressed the importance of securing the safety of the state from the viewpoint of maintaining the Communist Party’s dictatorship. In 2014, he became chairman of the party’s newly created National Security Commission. His regime also implemented a series of legislation for political regimentation, including a counterespionage law, a state security law, an anti-terrorism law and a law to control the activities of foreign NGOs. At the beginning of this month, it enforced a cybersecurity law, which is aimed at controlling free speech online.

Following implementation of the state security law in July 2015, Chinese authorities arrested some 300 human rights lawyers, branding their activities anti-government and charging some of them with seeking to subvert the state. In a report released in March, Cao Jinming, chief of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, named prominent human rights lawyers and pro-democracy activists, and pledged to severely punish subversive and sabotage activities by “hostile forces” to “safeguard security, protect stability and promote harmony.” According to a Hong Kong-based human rights organization, Chinese authorities filed charges of subversion of the state and inciting subversion of the state in some 3,000 cases in 2016, calling the moves the severest suppression of free speech since the Cultural Revolution.

Japan cannot stand aloof from the situation in China. In 2015 and 2016, Chinese authorities detained five Japanese nationals on suspicion that they took part in espionage activities. Last month, they acknowledged the detainment of six Japanese, including four employees of a Chiba geological survey company.

Xi solidified his political foothold when the Communist Party last October declared him to be a “core” leader. His second term as party chief will start when the party holds its convention later this year, where a large-scale shake-up of the party leadership is expected. He appears determined to overcome whatever political difficulty he may face by keeping up his hard-line posture.

But in the long run, such a policy could do harm to China, where public discontent appears to be growing over the behavior of elite officials who ignore the sentiments of ordinary citizens, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the slowdown in economic growth, and environmental disruption. Xi and other Chinese leaders should recognize that it will be hard to continue to suppress diverse opinions at a time when citizens have access to eye-opening experiences and information via the internet and overseas travel.