The United States on Wednesday saluted the protesters of Tiananmen Square and pressed China for a full account of the dead from its 1989 crackdown, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meeting survivors.

The United States issues a similar statement for each anniversary but the timing this year was awkward as President Donald Trump has threatened military force against nationwide protests over racial injustice.

Donald Trump. Photo: White House, via Flickr.

Pompeo released a photo of himself meeting four figures from Tiananmen Square including Wang Dan, perhaps the most prominent of the student leaders behind the massive demonstrations for democratic reforms.

“We reiterate our call for a full, public accounting of those killed or missing,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

“We mourn the victims of June 4, 1989, and we stand with the people of China who continue to aspire to a government that protects human rights, fundamental freedoms and basic human dignity,” she said.

A miniature Goddess of Democracy, a symbolic statue from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

China’s leadership has never provided a death toll from the crackdown, in which hundreds if not thousands are believed to have been killed, and has sought to suppress all public mention of the episode.

The anniversary comes several days after US federal police fired smoke bombs and pepper balls, a projectile that releases a chemical irritant, to break up a peaceful protest outside the White House so Trump could walk through to take a picture outside a nearby church.

The historic St. John’s Episcopal Church had suffered fire damage as nationwide protests gave way to riots over the killing by Minneapolis police of an unarmed African-American man, George Floyd.

While the non-lethal force in Washington’s Lafayette Park was a far cry from Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader has accused the United States of double standards in criticizing the city’s own clampdown on protesters demanding preservation of autonomy.

Pompeo earlier denounced China for preventing an annual Tiananmen commemoration in Hong Kong on the grounds that mass gatherings went against guidelines in fighting the coronavirus.

Trump in 1990 said that China’s leaders “almost blew it” in Tiananmen Square but ultimately showed “the power of strength,” comments on which the real-estate tycoon faced criticism as he ran for president.

Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.