Tiananmen Square Massacre: China Says U.S. Is Violating International Law by Honoring 30th Anniversary

China has hit out at the U.S. after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Beijing accused Pompeo of smearing the Communist Party government in his message, which called on China to disclose the full death toll from the suppression of the 1989 student-led protests, which involved millions of citizens across the country calling for wide-scale reform, increased liberty and democracy.

Hundreds—possibly even thousands—of people were killed as soldiers cleared Tiananmen Square of protesters, who had occupied the historic site for six weeks and turned it into a hub of action for activists in more than 400 other towns and cities nationwide.

The true number of dead is still unknown. In the years since, the Chinese government has censored all mention or public acknowledgement of the event so as to avoid a repeat. Those who discuss the massacre can be arrested and even imprisoned.

Thousands of online posts have been scrubbed in the lead up to the 30th anniversary of the massacre, which remains one of the darkest incidents in the country's modern history.

Pompeo praised the "heroic protest movement" that ended when "the Chinese Communist Party leadership sent tanks into Tiananmen Square to violently repress peaceful demonstrations calling for democracy, human rights, and an end to rampant corruption."

But a Chinese government spokesperson issued a response on Tuesday in a post on the website of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., which criticized Pompeo's intervention, The Associated Press reported.

The spokesperson said the secretary of state's message "grossly intervenes" in domestic Chinese affairs and characterized Pompeo's comments as "an affront to the Chinese people and a serious violation of international law."

Pompeo had called on the Chinese government to fully account for those killed in the suppression of the protests, and praised those who "bravely stood up 30 years ago in Tiananmen Square to demand their rights."

The statement also suggested China should "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," in a reference to mass re-education camps housing millions of Muslims in the west of the country.

"China's own constitution stipulates that all power belongs to the people," Pompeo added. "History has shown that nations are stronger when governments are responsive to their citizens, respect the rule of law, and uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms."

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Paramilitary police officers march in Tiananmen Square after attending a ceremony marking the centennial of the May Fourth Movement, a landmark student protest against colonialism and imperialism, in Beijing on April 30, 2019. Getty/GREG BAKER/AFP