Thirty years ago today, the Chinese government ordered soldiers armed with assault rifles and tanks to fire on peaceful demonstrators who had gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to protest against corruption and restrictions on political participation.
The student-led protests began on 15 April 1989 and quickly grew into a large scale gathering demanding greater political freedom. As numbers swelled and up to a million people filled the square, martial law was declared in Beijing, and on 4 June troops and tanks moved in. The real death toll is still unknown, but estimates vary from several hundred to almost 3,000 people killed and thousands more injured.
Governments, media portals and human rights organisations around the world have issued statements today commemorating the 1989 massacre, but the government of Malta chose to remain silent.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt remembered those who lost their lives: “Over the past 30 years, China has ratified a number of UN instruments relating to human rights. However, people in China are still unable to exercise their right to protest peacefully in China.”
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said, “Australia remains concerned about continuing constraints on freedom of association, expression and political participation in China.”
Michael Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, expressed deep sorrow for the families of those who were killed, adding that little has changed thirty years later. “China’s one-party State tolerates no dissent and abuses human rights whenever it serves its interests.” He called 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.”
The Chinese government responded to international statements by blocking CNN and Reuters stories on the Tiananmen Square massacre.
It appears the Chinese government has begun to block @CNN’s website in mainland China. It’s usually available. Our top story sright now is about the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The government here is near obsessive about limiting conversation on this topic pic.twitter.com/Hjatdko3Gx
— Matt Rivers (@MattRiversCNN) June 4, 2019
At a time when Malta is under increasing international pressure over human rights, freedom of expression, and media freedom, a strong statement on the Tiananmen Square massacre would have shown the government’s dedication to improving the local situation. Instead, they are conspicuous by their silence.
Malta’s relationship with China has grown closer under Joseph Muscat’s government. Chinese power firm Shanghai Electric took a 33% stake in Enemalta in 2014, in a deal negotiated by Minister Konrad Mizzi.
Malta is also forging ahead with plans to work with Chinese tech firm Huawei on 5G networks and CCTV cameras with advanced facial recognition software despite a number of countries moving to ban or restrict the company over significant national security concerns, including allegations of espionage. Malta’s controversial cash-for-passports scheme is also popular with Chinese investors.