Taiwan’s Lai says Tiananmen ‘will not disappear in the torrent of history’ | Politics News

Taiwan’s President William Lai Ching-te has vowed that Beijing’s brutal crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989 will not be forgotten, as Hong Kong deployed hundreds of police to keep an eye out for possible commemorative activities.

Tuesday marks 35 years since Chinese soldiers stormed the square where students and workers had set up camp for weeks, opening fire and killing hundreds, if not thousands, of people. An official death toll has never been published.

“The memory of June 4 will not disappear in the torrent of history,” Lai wrote in a statement on Facebook, adding that Taiwan, a democratic island claimed by Beijing, “will work hard to make this historical memory last forever.”

The Tiananmen Square protesters wanted political reform and were frustrated by the then government’s handling of the economy and the growth of corruption. Party leaders dismissed them as “counterrevolutionaries,” and after the crackdown, many of the protesters fled abroad.

In the years since then, discussion of Tiananmen has become taboo on the mainland.

Hong Kong police are searching for performance artist Sanmu Chen after he made a gesture to trace the 8964 Chinese characters in reference to Tiananmen Square (Yan Zhao/AFP)

Until 2020, Hong Kong was the only Chinese territory to hold a memorial to the crackdown, with thousands attending its annual vigil in Victoria Park.

That event is now banned and its organizers imprisoned.

In recent days, eight people have been arrested for alleged sedition over Tiananmen-related social media posts in the first arrests under Hong Kong’s internal national security law, which exists in addition to a sweeping security law imposed by China in 2020.

The South China Morning Post reported that hundreds of police had been deployed to guard “sensitive” locations, while a few manned the site of the vigil in Victoria Park.

On Monday night, artist Sanmu Chen was taken away by police after drawing in the air the Chinese characters for the number 8964, which represents the date of the crackdown. Chen’s lawyer told the AFP news agency that the artist was later released.

‘The truth should not be erased’

Meanwhile, Chinese and Hong Kong exiles joined activists in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere to remember the events of June 1989.

More than 2,000 people attended a vigil in Toronto, including the city’s mayor. A vigil was also organized at the Capitol in Washington, DC, while a series of events including public debates, an exhibition and a play took place in London.

Campaign group Hong Kong Watch highlighted that it was important to remember June 4.

“Those living in freedom must shoulder our responsibility to ensure that June 4, 1989 is never forgotten,” said the group’s founder and executive director, Benedict Rogers. “We must ensure that candles are lit and memories are rekindled in every corner of the world in honor of the courage and sacrifice of those who protested in 1989. The truth must not be erased.”

Taiwan’s Lai, who was sworn in last month after winning January’s presidential election, said what happened at Tiananmen was a reminder that “democracy and freedom are hard-won.”

Beijing has not ruled out using force to take control of Taiwan and organized two days of war exercises around the island in the days after Lai’s inauguration.

In his post, Lai praised Taiwan’s transition from an authoritarian military regime to a prosperous democracy and wrote that “any respectable country” allowed its people to speak.

“Any political power should bravely confront the voices of the people, especially those of the young generation, because social change often depends on diverse opinions,” he said.

“We must use democracy to build consensus, respond to autocracy with freedom, confront authoritarian expansion with courage, and confront challenges with unity,” he said.

China accuses Lai of being a “separatist.” Like his predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen, he maintains that Taiwan’s people should decide its future.

Taiwan will hold its own Tiananmen commemoration on Tuesday night.

Hong Kong Democracy Council chief executive Anna Kwok holds a candle as she takes part during a candlelight vigil.
Hong Kong Democracy Council Executive Director Anna Kwok holds a candle during a candlelight vigil in Washington, DC (Alex Wong/Getty Images via AFP)

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