Today of all days, we remember the courage and commitment of hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters who took to the streets to demand fundamental, universal rights. I’ll never forget turning on the television in my office and seeing a column of tanks halted by a single man armed only with his conscience. In those uncertain days, I was in the presence of 2,000 students in Massachusetts. I shared with them that these events were not the happenings of a weekend, but the happenings of an epoch, of a lifetime, and they demanded a moral and political response.
For all people who seek freedom, Tiananmen Square still stirs our conscience. That is why the United States and the international community commemorate the tragic loss of hundreds of lives and the heavy price paid by those who braved the violence in pursuit of the freedom to express their views. We express our sorrow to the families still grieving the loved ones, the lost, and especially to the Tiananmen Mothers.
We all recognize and appreciate that China has made marked social and economic progress in the past several decades. Continued progress will be defined by openness not just to the world, but to the voices and diverse perspectives of China’s citizens. Open discussion and examination of the events of 1989 and a full public accounting of those killed, detained, or missing would be a sign of strength and healing, not weakness and division. A peaceful, prosperous future is made more promising by healing the wounds of the past. We call on Chinese authorities to release from prison all those still serving sentences in connection with the events surrounding June 4, 1989, and end the ongoing pattern of harassment, detention, and official retribution against those who participated in the demonstrations, their family members, and those who continue to bravely speak out. We also urge China to release those who were detained in advance of the anniversary of June 4, and to uphold its international commitments to protect fundamental freedoms of all in China. All societies are stronger when every citizen has a say and a stake in their country’s direction.