Senators slam China's rights record on Tiananmen anniversary

Senators slam China's rights record on Tiananmen anniversary
© Stefani Reynolds

Senators at a hearing on Wednesday marked the 30th anniversary of China's crackdown on student protesters at Tiananmen Square, vowing to never forget the victims and to keep a spotlight on Beijing's human rights abuses.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischUN nominee Kelly Craft to face confirmation hearing Wednesday UN nominee Kelly Craft to face confirmation hearing Wednesday Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales MORE (R-Idaho) opened the hearing before his panel, titled "Rule by Fear: 30 Years After Tiananmen Square," by describing China's human rights abuses since 1989 as “pernicious and increasingly brazen." 

"Every day is Tiananmen Square,” Risch said.

The chairman cited the government’s persecution of Uighurs, with as many as 1 million individuals from the Muslim ethnic minority group confined to internment camps in the Western province of Xinjiang, according to The New York Times. He went on to say that the United States should make human rights a “more central part” of its approach to China.

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The hearing found lawmakers from both parties united in criticizing China's human rights record.

Ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate to vote on blocking Trump's Saudi arms deal as soon as this week There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (D-N.J.) emphasized the Chinese government's creation of a surveillance state and a “social credit” system that doles out punishments including travel restrictions for infractions such as unpaid fines.

“We must ensure our values grounded in international human rights guide our efforts to strategically and coherently respond to China’s rising power and growing authoritarianism,” Menendez said.

Lawmakers heard from Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch, who highlighted the Chinese government’s massive collection of data on its citizens, known as the “Police Cloud” in a 2017 report by the rights group.

She recommended Congress limit the export of technologies such as DNA sequencers that could be used by the Chinese government to abuse rights.

Xiao Qiang, the founder and editor-in-chief of China Digital Times, pointed out phrases banned by the Chinese government on the social media platform Weibo include “anniversary” and “May 35” — in reference to Tiananmen Square.

And Christopher Walker, the vice president for studies and analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy, warned that China is spreading its censorship techniques across the globe.

The hearing comes on the anniversary this week of the Chinese government's violent crackdown on student demonstrators who occupied Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

On June 3-4, 1989, the Chinese government deployed the military to suppress a six-week long pro-democracy protest in the capital.

Soldiers fired on unarmed people and tanks cleared the square. Beijing has never released an official death toll, but estimates range from hundreds to thousands. The Chinese government has also censored references to the protest.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Progressive nonprofits sue White House over missing notes from Putin meeting Progressive nonprofits sue White House over missing notes from Putin meeting MORE released a statement Monday, condemning the regime for censoring the history of the protests and violating human rights.

On Tuesday, the House unanimously passed a resolution to commemorate the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre and urged the Chinese government to “support a full, transparent, and independent accounting of the government’s actions.”       

At a poignant moment of the hearing, Qiang asked the senators and onlookers to close their eyes and imagine themselves in Tiananmen Square during the pro-democracy demonstrations. “Chinese people want, deserve and demand human rights freedom,” said Qiang.