A student displays a banner during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Photo: AFP/Catherine Henriette

China has branded Mike Pompeo’s statement about the brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests in 1989 as “lunatic ravings and babbling nonsense.”

The United States Secretary of State came in for a withering attack on Tuesday after he called on Beijing to release prisoners fighting for human rights on the 30th anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown.

“[His remarks are] malicious attacks [on] China’s political system, denigrates the state of China’s human rights and religious affairs, wantonly criticizes China’s Xinjiang policy and severely interferes in China’s domestic affairs,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a regular media briefing.

“These lunatic ravings and babbling nonsense will only end up in the trash can of history,” Geng added.

On Monday, Pompeo again urged Beijing to make a full public account of those killed or missing in the student-led protests.

“Such a step would begin to demonstrate the Communist Party’s willingness to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms,” he said.

“We call on China to release all those held for seeking to exercise these rights and freedoms, halt the use of arbitrary detention, and reverse counterproductive policies that conflate terrorism with religious and political expression,” Pompeo added.

Symbolic heart

In the spring of 1989, Chinese students and workers gathered in Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of power in Beijing, to demand democratic change and an end rampant corruption.

The demonstrations triggered similar scenes across the country.

But after seven weeks of protests, Deng Xiaoping’s government sent in tanks and troops from the People’s Liberation Army to crush the students.

The bloodbath resulted in the deaths of thousands of protesters, according to estimates from human-rights groups and witnesses.

Since then, the incident has been airbrushed from history with the Communist Party of China censoring any discussions about what actually happened.

Still, the diplomatic pressure continues to mount.

Just hours after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued its Pompeo broadside, the European Union urged China to lift the veil of silence over the horrors of 1989.

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat, made it clear that the world’s largest trading bloc would “continue to mourn” those killed in the “brutal repression.”

“The exact numbers of those who died and were detained on 4 June and in the subsequent crackdown have never been confirmed, and may never be known,” she said in a statement.

‘Killed’

“Acknowledgement of these events, and of those killed, detained or missing in connection with the Tiananmen Square protests, is important for future generations and for the collective memory,” Mogherini added.

Sensitive to criticism, senior Chinese officials have recently defended the actions taken 30 years ago, despite the subject being taboo in the world’s second-largest economy.

The latest statement came at the weekend from General Wei Fenghe, the minister of defense, when he insisted it was the “correct” policy to end “political turbulence.”

“That incident was political turbulence and the central government took measures to stop the turbulence, which is a correct policy,” he said in a wide-ranging speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

“The past 30 years have proven that China has undergone major changes,” he said. “China has enjoyed stability and development.”

But at what costs?

– additional reporting by AFP

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