Senior US Official Visits China on Anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre

Senior US Official Visits China on Anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel J. Kritenbrink (left) listens during a meeting with Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh on July 12, 2022. (Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP via Getty Images)
Melanie Sun

A senior U.S. diplomat has arrived in China for talks to discuss "key issues in the bilateral relationship" with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials.

The visit by Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, coincides with the 34th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Kritenbrink is being accompanied in Beijing by Sarah Beran, the National Security Council's senior director for China and Taiwan affairs.

His official meetings in Beijing will begin on June 5, according to a State Department spokesperson. As always, Kritenbrink will raise human rights concerns with Chinese officials and continue to advocate for fundamental freedoms in China.

Kritenbrink is then scheduled to deliver a speech at the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs Conference in Auckland on June 8 and will travel to Wellington, New Zealand through June 10 to participate in the U.S.–New Zealand Strategic Dialogue.
He previously served as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam during the Trump administration.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also noted in a June 3 statement that the United States would be observing the 34th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

“On June 4th, 1989, the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) sent tanks into Tiananmen Square to brutally repress peaceful Chinese pro-democracy protesters and bystanders alike,” he said. “The victims’ bravery will not be forgotten and continues to inspire advocates for these principles around the world."

An estimated 300,000 Chinese soldiers—many of them only 18 or 19 years old themselves—were deployed to disperse the student protesters in what would become a bloody massacre.

According to a journal article titled "Why the People’s Army Fired on the People: The Chinese Military and Tiananmen," about 100,000 students, cheered on by an estimated 500,000 onlookers, were protesting in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

When the soldiers opened fire, hundreds—potentially thousands—of protesters were killed for standing up against the CCP's oppression of human rights and freedoms in China under its one-party rule.

While official CCP figures claim that 241 people died in the incident, including soldiers, and that 7,000 were wounded, declassified documents provided by an unnamed whistleblower in December 2017 indicated that at least 10,000 were killed.
In the lead-up to June 4, the soldiers were kept in isolation and thoroughly prepared via "political thought work" for a "clearing of Tiananmen Square," according to Andrew Nathan, professor of political science at Columbia University. He cited secret CCP documents with comments from former Chinese leader and military leader Yang Shangkun, who orchestrated the bloody assault.

Yang was working alongside Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who had earlier said the People's Liberation Army must be willing “to spill some blood” to restore order.

“The party leaders feared that the whole edifice of communism was going to collapse,” said journalist John Pomfret, who witnessed the infamous event. “They needed to make a stand, and a bloody stand, to show their population, and in effect, to cow their population, back into submission.”
In remembering the human rights tragedy, Blinken said in his statement, “The United States will continue advocating for people’s human rights and fundamental freedoms in China and around the world.”

Tensions Simmer

Kritenbrink’s visit comes after a secret China trip by CIA Director William Burns last month after Beijing had broken off most regular calls between senior diplomatic, intelligence, and military officials in the aftermath of the U.S. shootdown of a Chinese spy balloon.

The balloon flew through U.S. airspace over sensitive military sites and was shot down by a U.S. fighter jet only after it had traversed the mainland and reached the Atlantic Ocean.

After the meeting, in which Burns had "emphasized the importance of maintaining open lines of communication in intelligence channels" with his Chinese counterparts, Biden said on May 21 that he expected a “thaw” in relations with China in the short term.

On May 25, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo met with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Wentao, in Washington and expressed willingness to “build on the engagement between President Biden and President Xi” at the November 2022 G-20 leaders' summit in Bali, Indonesia, before the spy balloon diplomatic crisis.
Then, on May 26, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai met with Wang at an APEC Trade Ministers meeting in Detroit.

The White House has stated that it's working to facilitate visits to China by Blinken, as well as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Raimondo.

Over the weekend, China still refused to hold military talks with U.S. officials at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore—Asia's top security summit.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned the CCP that its reluctance to talk was undermining efforts to maintain peace in the region as tensions are running high.
Reuters contributed to this report.