Opinion: Ukraine President Takes a Tougher Stance on China 

Global memorial on Tiananmen anniversary highlights CCP's global threat
June 22, 2022 Updated: June 22, 2022


Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently called on the international community to support Taiwan and “resist China’s aggression.” Around the same time, the Chinese Communist Party’s global threat was highlighted at a U.S. rally commemorating the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Zelenskyy spoke at the Shangri-La security forum on June 11, warning the world that preemptive deterrence of CCP aggression is needed to avoid a Ukraine-like contingency.

In an interview by Josh Rogin at The Washington Post, Zelenskyy further stressed that “the international community should help Taiwan resist China’s aggression now before Beijing attacks the island democracy it claims as its own province.”

Zelenskyy’s statement indicated that he recognizes Taiwan’s sovereignty and the Chinese regime’s aggression toward Taiwan would be viewed as a repetition of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This was a fundamental change in Ukraine’s attitude toward the CCP regime, which was the largest trade partner of Ukraine before the war.

Before the war, the Zelenskyy administration had taken a more dovish approach to China. On May 25, at the Davos Forum, Zelenskyy said that he was satisfied with China’s gradual dissociation with Russia on the Invasion of Ukraine. Later, Zelenskyy stated in a virtual interview with the Financial Times that it would be significant for Ukraine if China used its influence to urge Russia to stop the war.

So what triggered this change in public stance on the Chinese regime? While, for tactical reasons, Zelenskyy has to secure as much weaponry support from the European Union and the United States as soon as possible, it is becoming more apparent that the Chinese regime’s support to Russia is another major factor that has been dragging the war on longer.

Concurrently, we must stress that the legitimacy of the CCP’s rule in China has been challenged more intensively than ever, a factor that is triggering a more realistic attitude toward this regime. The regime’s criminal behavior has faced waves of exposure, from the release of the Xinjiang Police Files to the complicity in rampant misogyny illustrated by the current scandal in Tangshan.

On June 9, the members of the European Parliament passed a resolution in a landslide, calling the Chinese regime’s systemic human rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghur minority “crimes against humanity and a serious risk of genocide.”

Recently, U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet was criticized for parroting CCP descriptions of Xinjiang atrocities as counter-terrorism. That is to say, cooperation with the regime is quickly becoming a political and potential strategic liability.

As the CCP becomes more exposed, integration between groups the regime has victimized seems to be coalescing around a common goal of ending authoritarianism in China.

Legacy of Tiananmen Square Massacre

During the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, which happened on June 4, 1989, commemorative events were held in many major cities worldwide.

Rockville, Maryland, a city perched on the outskirts of Washington, held a “Freedom from Tyranny” public rally, which was hosted by the Rockville Sister Cities Corp.

The event demonstrated this growing solidarity between dissident groups featuring a litany of speakers from the dissident, exile, and overseas communities of China, Kazakhstan, East Turkestan, Vietnam, Tibet, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

Members of the Ukrainian community also participated in the event, suggesting there is growing recognition that the regime in Beijing represents a global threat and its support for Russia’s invasion is critical to the current crisis in Ukraine.

Arthur Zgurov, a neurosurgeon and activist in the NGO Razom for Ukraine, compared Tiananmen to the Maidan, a central square in Kyiv where the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 occurred. He said, “Thousands gave their lives for a new and prosperous China.”

“What is the cost of freedom? It’s not money. It’s not human rights.”

“Freedom is something we have to fight for. It’s a path we have to choose.”

Epoch Times Photo
Arthur Zgurov, a neurosurgeon and activist in the NGO Razom for Ukraine, speaks at the “Freedom from Tyranny” rally in Rockville, Md., on June 4, 2022. (Courtesy of Maxwell Wappel)

Representatives from the Uyghur Human Rights Project and the Global Service Center for Quitting Chinese Communist Party, among other NGOs and advocacy groups, also participated in the rally.

Epoch Times Photo
Members of the Global Service Center for Quitting Chinese Communist Party join the “Freedom from Tyranny” rally in Rockville, Md., on June 4, 2022. (Courtesy of Maxwell Wappel)

The Tiananmen Square massacre is commonly referred to as “6/4.” The moniker refers to the date when soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army violently suppressed a mass movement of student and civilian protesters in Beijing, resulting in thousands of deaths. Decades later, it is still widely remembered as one of modern history’s worst demonstrations of authoritarian barbarism.

To this day, the CCP continues to attempt to redact the Tiananmen Square massacre from the memories of Chinese citizens. The criminalization of the annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong is a recent example of this effort. International rallies held worldwide help aggregate our collective memory and prevent the narrative capture that Beijing desperately requires to maintain its legitimacy.

Victims and Activists Call Out the CCP

Wei Jingsheng, who spent 16 years in jail after writing and publishing an essay called “The Fifth Modernization,” a reference to democracy, specifically addressed the issue of narrative control at the “Freedom from Tyranny” rally on June 4 in Rockville, Maryland.

Epoch Times Photo
Chinese human rights activist Wei Jingsheng (R) delivers a speech at the “Freedom from Tyranny” rally in Rockville, Md., on June 4, 2022. (Courtesy of Maxwell Wappel)

“Those of us who are overseas, we have the responsibility to tell the truth, to talk to Chinese people, to wait for the day when we strive together for freedom and democracy.”

“Despite the communist regime’s brainwashing, despite communist suppression, you still can tell from conversations with people young and old, they are against the Communist Party and are yearning for freedom and democracy,” Wei said.

Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese civil rights lawyer who sought asylum in the United States after being persecuted by the CCP in China, spoke at the event.

Epoch Times Photo
Chinese human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng delivers a speech at the “Freedom from Tyranny” rally in Rockville, Md., on June 4, 2022. (Courtesy of Maxwell Wappel)

Chen believes that the United States must be innovative in addressing the threat of the CCP, considering options beyond the military and economic spheres, and warned against expecting China to liberalize further or pursue a path of reform.

He emphasized that the regime is currently using the COVID-19 pandemic to tighten controls on the daily lives of Chinese citizens, suggesting we should not expect economic tightening to induce reform but rather exacerbate the issue of totalitarian rule.

Chen said that if the United States and the West show weakness to the CCP regime, it will become more aggressive, comparing the situation to Russia’s foreign policy trajectory since the 2014 invasion of Crimea. He suggested that the West should apply more pressure on Beijing.

He warned Americans against waiting for a Pearl Harbor-like incident before taking Beijing seriously, emphasizing that the “Chinese communist regime will never change simply because we engage or appeal to them.”

Chen said of the June 4 commemoration, “We not only get together in order not to forget, but we also need to remember that in the future we will hold these people accountable.”

Chen, a blind man, escaped house arrest in China a decade ago and sought asylum in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He now lives in the United States.

Baggio Leung, a former member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong and head of the Hong Kong Liberation Coalition, a Washington-based NGO supporting asylum seekers and advocating for the Hong Kong democracy movement, also spoke at the event.

Epoch Times Photo
Former Hong Kong legislator Baggio Leung and a group of Hongkongers join the “Freedom from Tyranny” rally in Rockville, Md., on June 4, 2022. (Courtesy of Maxwell Wappel)

Leung implored the U.S. government to act decisively against the CCP.

“If the regime can kill its own people and deny responsibility, what makes you think that they wouldn’t do the same to us? What makes you think China will abide by international rules?”

Regarding Washington’s stance on Hong Kong, Leung said: “There is an internal joke, which is, Hong Kong is the only topic that both the Democrats and Republicans will agree on, so we are the lucky ones because at least in Washington, we see great support … but we can see that Hong Kong’s momentum decreasing is a real issue.”

It is a problem faced by many groups seeking U.S. support in their struggle against authoritarianism. This Tiananmen commemoration became a rallying point for various dissident groups that faced a common oppressor.

Gani Stambekov, the founder and president of FreeKazakhs, an organization that advocates for human rights in Kazakhstan and ethnic Kazakhs in East Turkestan (Xinjiang), emphasized the corruption of the Kazakh government and the collaboration of many U.S. businesses and politicians who operate there.

Epoch Times Photo
Gani Stambekov, founder and president of FreeKazakhs, along with Uyghur concentration camp survivors, speaks at the “Freedom from Tyranny” rally in Rockville, Md., on June 4, 2022. (Courtesy of Maxwell Wappel)

Stambekov commented that considerable corruption is needed to enter the Kazakh market, and loyalty to the regime is a prerequisite for doing business.

He continued: “Two years ago, we had an Independence Day celebration on December 16th at the Kazakh Embassy in Washington, D.C. Many U.S. politicians attended, and the embassy spent $700,000 on one dinner. That’s the reason that [when it comes to human rights abuses in Kazakhstan] the U.S. either doesn’t know or doesn’t care—because there are 600 U.S. companies in Kazakhstan and $54 billion already invested.”

Stambekov recalled, “A few years ago, when I spoke to one congressman, I [asked] him why the U.S. wouldn’t make a big move in Kazakhstan politically or economically. And he said that if the U.S. pushed on the Kazakh regime too hard, they would lean toward Russia and China. But the reality is Kazakhstan has been controlled by Russia since our independence–the U.S. being neutral, being passive, does not change this reality.”

“Kazakhstan is part of the world … as these regimes get stronger, they commit genocide on their people, start wars … you’re letting the dragon grow stronger, one day it will swallow you,” he said.

Most speakers echoed a similar sentiment: ignore authoritarian regimes at your own peril.

Hong Kong businessman Elmer Yuen, chairman of Hong Kong Freedom Beacon, suggested a containment strategy against CCP-brand authoritarianism.

“Isolate them—lots of sanctions. If you look at the map from Korea, to Japan, to Taiwan, and through Southeast Asia, up through India, they are being surrounded … you isolate them for a year, and they will come,” he said at the rally.

Epoch Times Photo
Elmer Yuen, the founder of Hong Kong Freedom Beacon, speaks at the “Freedom from Tyranny” rally in Rockville, Md., on June 4, 2022. (Courtesy of Maxwell Wappel)

Born in Shanghai, Yuen’s family lost everything after the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and moved to Hong Kong. After Beijing implemented its National Security Law in Hong Kong, Yuen decided to leave the city and focus on advocacy work in the United States.

He was adamant that the West must not simply rely on a change in leadership in China. “When Xi Jinping is gone, are we just going to wait for another kind of benevolent leader?”

“No more talking, no more negotiation, no more settlement. First, the CCP must disband. They must elect a responsible representative to negotiate with the rest of the world (before negotiations begin,” he said.

Though not a mainstream view, Yuen’s remarks reflect a growing sentiment that the CCP’s governance is ineffective. From demographic collapse to erratic COVID policies, government indebtedness, and natural disaster, the CCP faces serious challenges.

Yuen continued, “They are going back to the stone age [referring to their semiconductor chip manufacturing shortage]. When they come to negotiate, when they plead for terms, the precondition for negotiation should be the disbandment of the CCP.”

Tragedy of June 4

Later in the day, I spoke with one of the event’s organizers, Sean Lin, a Tiananmen survivor and fellow director of the Rockville Sister Cities Corp.

Lin told me what he saw in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

Epoch Times Photo
Sean Lin, a survivor of the Tiananmen Square massacre, recalls his traumatic experience 33 years ago at the “Freedom from Tyranny” rally in Rockville, Md., on June 4, 2022. (Courtesy of Maxwell Wappel)

“We arrived at the [Tiananmen] Square around 10 o’clock in the evening. I left Qinghua University with my friend who was a student there. We left early, around 5 [p.m.] or 6 [p.m.], because we had already heard that the military would move into the square. So on the way there, we tried to encourage people to support the students, to mobilize people. I remember climbing up on top of a bus to encourage people.”

“We were hoping with student and civilian effort, we could block the military,” Lin chuckled softly.

“Actually, on our way heading to Tiananmen, there were many places we stopped [at] and helped people set up blockades on the road—so it took a while to get there.”

Lin went on to describe the chaotic scene throughout the night. He recalled hearing gunshots, people singing in solidarity to maintain morale, and seeing wounded students run back into the square.

Eventually, the student leaders negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the People’s Liberation Army, and students were allowed to leave from the southeast corner.

“Some of my friends and I were hiding in a civilian’s home for almost half an hour—we knocked, and they let us in. Beijing people at that time were very supportive of the students. Many civilians tried to block the military and died that night—especially at the junctions. I think many civilians tried to block the junctions.”

When asked about the legacy of Tiananmen in China and its effect on current student movements over COVID lockdown policies in Beijing and Tianjin, Lin was less than optimistic.

“It’s difficult to have a major student movement because the government has already established a very strong digital dictatorship with strong surveillance and management of society.”

“I think right now they don’t have the capability to lead a student movement. It’s a very difficult environment.”

The rally’s speakers expressed anger and sadness as they reflected on the Tiananmen Square massacre. But the collective message was clear: the people of the United States should recognize that the CCP shares the characteristics of an organized crime syndicate.

As the event concluded, Yeun went to a nearby restaurant to eat.

“I’m 73 years old. It’s no big deal; I have 10, 20 years of life [left to live]. But in the end, it’s the children.” His voice quivered as he continued to speak.

“If we don’t take out the communists, our children have no future. These people here, what they should be worried about is not the economy. It’s the security of their country and the future of their children.”

Epoch Times Photo
Protesters gather to support the withdrawal of 390 million people from the Chinese Communist Party and its associate groups, in Brooklyn, New York, on Feb. 27, 2022. (Chung I Ho/The Epoch Times)

Below are video recordings of the “Freedom from Tyranny” rally:

Part I: https://youtu.be/J95rOyk8d-Q

Part ii: https://youtu.be/DbClgv1Kd5w

Part III: https://youtu.be/8K6_hE14dk8

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Maxwell Wappel is a director of the Rockville Sister Cities Corporation and research associate at Taiwan NextGen Foundation, a Taipei-Chiayi-based think tank. He graduated from Johns Hopkins SAIS with a Master’s in International Relations in 2022.