TAIPEI: Taiwan’s new president Tsai Ing-wen urged China to give its people more rights and “heal past wounds and pain” on the 27th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown Saturday.
Her remarks came after the island’s first ever Tiananmen commemoration in parliament on Friday, as lawmakers urged the government to address human rights issues in its dealings with China.
Ties with China have rapidly cooled since Beijing-skeptic Tsai won the presidency in January, with China highly distrustful of her traditionally independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Although Taiwan has been self-ruling since a split with the mainland in 1949 after a civil war, China still sees it as part of its territory to be reunified.
In her first remarks on Tiananmen as Taiwan’s leader, Tsai said China must be open about the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in the center of Beijing in 1989, which by some estimates left 1,000 dead.
The protests are branded a “counter-revolutionary rebellion” by Chinese authorities and many on the mainland remain unaware of what happened.
“Do not let June 4 forever be unspoken between the two sides. Only the ruling party on the other side can heal the past wounds and pain of the Chinese people,” Tsai said in a post on her Facebook page.
By improving rights, “people around the world will respect China more,” she added.
Tsai pledged to ensure “Taiwanese people’s identity as democratic and free people,” as well as maintaining cross-strait peace and stability.
“Hopefully one day the two sides will have the same views on democracy and human rights,” she added.
Taiwanese civil groups will commemorate the Tiananmen crackdown with a candlelight vigil in downtown Taipei later Saturday.
There were mass rallies in Taiwan in 1989 to support the pro-democracy protests in China and the island’s government has since routinely urged Beijing to heed the lessons from the Tiananmen crackdown.
On last year’s anniversary, Taiwan’s former president Ma Ying-jeou of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party also called for China to “redress the wrongs” of June 4.
Tsai came to power after Ma oversaw an eight-year rapprochement with China which voters feared brought Taiwan too close to Beijing. She won the presidency by a landslide, promising to restore Taiwanese pride.
Beijing has since been pushing her to adhere to its “one China” concept.
She has never endorsed the ideology accepted by Ma that there is only one China, with each side allowed its own interpretation of exactly what that means.
Tsai’s government this week dropped what were criticized as “China-centric” changes to the high school curriculum that triggered major protests last year.
That sparked a backlash from Beijing, which said Taipei would “shoulder the consequences” of provoking tensions.