Is America serious about human rights in China?

Is America serious about human rights in China?
© NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images

It’s been 30 years since the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Three decades ago today, the Chinese Communist Party ordered the slaughter of thousands of unarmed, peaceful, pro-freedom protestors. To this day, it’s one of the most brutal atrocities ever perpetrated by that murderous regime. Anyone who thinks otherwise can watch the clips on YouTube or Twitter (until they are removed).

Yet it’s also been 30 years of American equivocation over what happened at Tiananmen Square. Our politicians have said all the right things, condemning the massacre and calling for justice. But when it comes to action, the most powerful free nation on earth has given Beijing a pass — no concrete steps, no meaningful demands, no proof that we respect the Chinese people and not just the power dynamic of the Chinese Communist Party.

This matters now more than ever. America’s continued unwillingness to hold China’s government accountable for the Tiananmen Square Massacre has made us less likely to push back on Beijing’s other atrocities and assaults on freedom. Today, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is crushing Tibet, chipping away at Hong Kong’s fragile liberty, and forcing the Muslim Uighurs into de facto slavery. Sadly, once again, America’s leaders can only muster strongly-worded statements, rather than demonstrate real resolve and muscle in defense of the values of freedom that define our nation.

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It’s time for the United States to stand up to China and say, “Stop!” It’s time for the freest, most powerful nation on earth to hold the world’s most oppressive regime to account.

That starts by finally penalizing the perpetrators of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The United States has had 30 years to identify the Communist Chinese politicians, bureaucrats and military officials who ordered and perpetrated the crimes on that day. Many of them are still alive, and they still have the blood of thousands of innocents on their hands. America has plenty of tools — especially the Global Magnitsky Act — that allow us to punish known human-rights abusers.

The U.S. should also make a long-overdue demand: China’s rulers must stop denying and finally acknowledge the massacre. The families of those who were murdered — including the famous Tiananmen Mothers — have called for this simple admission for decades, with little American support. America’s elected officials could continue to push to close the Communist Party-controlled propaganda centers known as Confucius Institutes that operate on dozens of taxpayer-funded university campuses and work to suppress students’ efforts to learn the truth about Tiananmen along with other “sensitive” subjects.

It’s long past due for the U.S. to speak truth to power in Beijing and make it clear that America will not play along with China’s efforts to erase history and evade accountability.

Such actions would prove that America remembers — and cares about — what happened in Tiananmen Square. It would put us unmistakably on the side of the Chinese people, rather than their oppressors. And it would give the United States the moral credibility to take on Beijing’s many other evil actions.

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Consider the Chinese crusade to dominate Tibet. Even before 1989, Beijing was hard at work stamping out Tibetan culture and religion, and its efforts have only intensified in recent years. Ancient monasteries are being shut down, people are being forced from their homes, and peaceful protestors are being imprisoned, exiled and tortured. The dramatic increase in self-immolations by Tibetan Buddhist monks is perhaps the most visible sign of Tibet’s increasingly hopeless plight.

It’s a similar story in Hong Kong, although the situation is not nearly as advanced.

Twenty years after Communist China took control of the free and prosperous city state, Beijing is actively undermining the liberty and rule of law that made Hong Kong successful in the first place. The CCP has no problem disqualifying pro-freedom lawmakers, cracking down on protests, and even kidnapping people and shipping them off to the mainland for trial. For the people of Hong Kong, the promise of “one country, two systems” is growing more empty by the day.

And then there’s the horrible injustice under way in Xinjiang. In that Western province of the People’s Republic of China, the Communist Party has built an Orwellian surveillance system to monitor and control the Muslim Uighur population. As many as 3 million Uighurs — out of a population of about 11 million — have been shipped off to concentration camps, which Beijing calls “vocational training centers.” There, they are forced to endure round-the-clock brainwashing, forced labor, even torture. Rarely in the modern world is communist tyranny on such terrifying display.

Thirty years after Tiananmen Square, Communist China is more oppressive than ever. Beyond the examples listed here, the average Chinese citizen lives in a police state that grows ever-stricter, with freedom looking more distant by the day. In the face of such obvious evil, the United States can denounce Beijing all we want, but absent action, our condemnation at this point is tantamount to condoning.

The Chinese people deserve better. The martyrs from Tiananmen Square, and their families, deserve better. Thirty years may have passed, but it’s not too late for America to act.

Marion Smith is executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C. Follow on Twitter @smithmarion.