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Reflecting On The Tiananmen Square 30th Anniversary


Thirty years ago, more than a million people rallied around student hunger strikers in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. They wanted free speech and more democratic government and other reforms. And in the early hours of June 4, 1989, Chinese troops turned rifles and tanks on the demonstrators. To this day, no one knows how many hundreds or even thousands of people were killed.

Wu'er Kaixi was there, one of the leaders of the Beijing Students' Autonomous Federation. He's reported to be the second most wanted man in China following the Tiananmen massacre. He was able to flee to France, studied at Harvard and ultimately settled in Taiwan, where he is an author, political commentator and still an activist.

Wu'er Kaixi joins us from Oxford in the United Kingdom. Thank you so much for being with us.

WU'ER KAIXI: Mr. Simon, it's a great pleasure, and we treasure this opportunity to channel our voice. Thank you.

SIMON: And what do you remember of those days in Tiananmen Square 30 years ago?

KAIXI: You would think that 30 years' time is a long time that would wear out some of the memories. And it probably does. But I remember the peaceful demonstrators, our peaceful demand - a very reasonable demand, too, I may add - humble - that has been answered by, as you said, machine guns and tanks, real ammunition that - nothing we have expected. And they turned Beijing city into a war zone. The city was under siege.

I remember the gunshots, the flame and then - something that you would never imagine if you haven't been in that kind of situation. One thing is that you can actually hear the bullets travelling in the air. That's something, I think, someone only who are in the war could have experienced.

SIMON: Thirty years later, is China more free, less free?

KAIXI: China is absolutely - went into a opposite direction from what we have demanded 30 years ago. It's become one of the place that has the least freedom. And, no, it's less free, of course. And then thinking of - I'm a Uighur, myself. And you probably know that - let's see...

SIMON: Yeah.

KAIXI: ...The concentration camp in Xinjiang, my home country - that over a million people - and some estimate two millions - were in concentration camp in 21st century. So no. Today, China is one land that has the least freedom in, again, 21st century.

SIMON: The United States, of course, is now involved in a trade dispute with China. Should the United States make human rights and, even specifically, those detention camps for the Uighur people an issue between the U.S. and China?

KAIXI: Absolutely. You know, I have been blaming the West in the last, you know, three decades. You know, we saw it back in Tiananmen. You know, we fought for democracy, and then government answered us with massacre. And then we flee to countries like United States. Democracy - we came home, but then the support we expected wasn't there. We feel betrayed.

And United States-led Western democracies has adopted a wrong China policy that has brought China where we are today. And then the policy United States called is engagement. I just call it appeasement. And there is no moral foundation for being nice to a government who is totalitarian and just massacred its student.

But on the other hand, it is also not - it doesn't suits United States' national interest, the West - the world's interest. And then I'm afraid - I mean, 30 years have passed. Oh, it took a businessman world leader, a interest-centric president of the United States to saw there's something wrong in this picture. But I - we are - I'm glad he spotted that. But is he going to rewrite this policy with this trade war and everything? We're expecting, but we certainly hope it's not an interest-centric policy again. It should be value-centric. And only by doing that, United States - if apply a value-centric China policy - I believe then the allies of the United States - the Europe, Japan, all countries - then will follow suit.

SIMON: Wu'er Kaixi, thank you so much for being with us 30 years after Tiananmen Square.

KAIXI: It's my great pleasure. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.