Rep. Chris Smith: Why the Tiananmen Square Massacre cannot be forgotten

Rep. Chris Smith represents the 4th district of New Jersey. He is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and co-chair of the bipartisan U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

The violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in China forever changed U.S.-China relations and dimmed the hope for democratic reform in China. The Chinese government continues to defend its actions of June 3rd-4th, 1989 saying today it took “the right path for the sake of the people.” What the demonstrations at Tiananmen clearly showed, however, was that when the Chinese people were briefly allowed to speak freely to the world—as they did 25 years ago—they asked for democracy, freedom, and human rights.

Some may prefer to look beyond the past or even trivialize the wanton slaughter by Chinese soldiers, but the memory of the dead and wounded as well as the plight of the jailed and tortured requires us to honor them and respect their noble aspirations for fundamental freedoms.

China goes to great lengths to erase the memory of Tiananmen, through censorship and arrest.  They have been so successful that college students have no idea of the events that transpired 25 years ago—they don’t even recognize the famous photo of the man standing courageously in front of the tanks.

We must always remember the Tiananmen Massacre here in Congress until the Chinese people are allowed to openly and freely discuss its significance without harassment, arrest, and censorship.  I have held over 40 hearings on the Chinese  government’s human rights abuses, including most recently on May 30, 2014, in the wake of the House overwhelming passing HRes. 599 commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre on May 28.

One day China will be free. Human history is filled with examples of dictatorships crumbling because courageous people refused to capitulate or stand down.  The 25th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown must re-inspire, re-energize, and re-prioritize our efforts for human rights and freedom in China.

The U.S. must again be the foremost champion of liberty in China. Doing so is in our strategic interests, and in the interests of the people of China who deserve a better life. A more democratic and open China, one that respects human rights, and is governed by the rule of law, is more likely to be a productive and peaceful partner rather than aggressive and hostile competitor.