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President Ma's Observations on the 20th Anniversary of the June 4th Incident

Twenty years ago today, the world was shocked by the events of the June 4th Incident at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Even as I speak, Chinese communities throughout the world are holding activities in memory of that day. This painful chapter in history must be faced. Pretending it never happened is not an option.

History books are replete with accounts of bloody conflicts between governments and their people, both in China and elsewhere. In the past half-century we have seen such incidents occur in the United States, Eastern Europe, Korea, and Southeast Asia, to name but a few examples. The result has been long-lasting scars in the fabric of society. Government exists for the sake of the people. The hatreds and fears engendered by bloody conflicts do not soon fade away. In any such conflict, it is the government that exercises public authority and therefore bears responsibility for critically examining its actions. When any government contemplates tragic episodes from its past, it must let the facts speak for themselves; when it faces the bereaved family members of the victims, it must put itself in their shoes. That is the only way to keep tragedy from being repeated.

We have had similarly painful episodes in Taiwan that proved difficult to recover from. In the 228 Incident of 1947 and the White Terror of the 1950s, many died unjustly, while others lost their freedom and their health. Families were torn apart. Lives were destroyed. A dark cloud of hatred and fear descended over the relationship between the people and the government. After martial law was lifted in Taiwan in 1987, however, our government began working to heal the wounds of our troubled past, and to build social harmony. We have examined the past, acknowledged our mistakes, apologized for them, erected historical monuments, passed legislation requiring compensation, taken steps to restore the reputations of the victims, and established a national holiday on which flags are lowered to half-mast. None of this was easily accomplished, but with time, determination, and sincerity, we got it done. This quest to establish justice and the rule of law holds positive lessons for Taiwan, for ethnic Chinese everywhere, and for other countries around the world.

Great changes have taken place on both sides of the Taiwan Strait in the two decades since the June 4th Incident. Successful economic reforms in mainland China have brought tremendous improvements to the quality of life there. Over the past decade, the mainland authorities have paid greater attention to human rights than before. China has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In addition, it has published a series of white papers on human rights, and just this past April took an even more concrete step forward by formally adopting the National Human Rights Action Plan of China. The Action Plan has received mixed reviews from the international community, but the mere fact that they took this step is a clear signal that the mainland authorities are now willing to directly address the issue of human rights. This shows a robust openness and confidence on their part, the likes of which we have not seen from them in the past.

In the meantime, Taiwan has made a step-by-step transition to democracy over the past 20 years. Since the end of martial law, we have lifted the ban on the formation of political parties, re-elected our National Assembly and Legislative Yuan, ended the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion, instituted popular election of the provincial governor and local mayors, and finally, established direct presidential elections. And now, within the space of eight years, the people of Taiwan have twice used the ballot to switch ruling parties. Taiwan is gradually becoming a mature democracy. Just last month, Taiwan ratified the two aforementioned International Covenants and incorporated them into domestic law. We will now spend the next two years on a sweeping review of all related laws to make sure that the provisions therein are consistent with international human rights standards.

Cross-strait relations have begun to improve over the past year. Mutual mistrust is gradually easing. Economic and trade relations are improving, and cultural ties are growing stronger. After 60 years of military and political standoff, both sides have begun to adopt concrete measures demonstrating their concern for human rights. This development is particularly gratifying. We must not stand by like passive spectators, and treat these very welcome developments as if they were nothing more than a stroke of lucky historical circumstance; rather, we must act to ensure that current trends take on an irreversible momentum. That is the only way our recent breakthroughs can actually redound to the benefit of people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

I believe history is a beacon that illuminates the way forward. We seek to learn the lessons of history, not so that hatred might grow, but to understand our options and choose the best among them. The current easing of cross-strait ties has brought incipient prospects for true peace between our two sides. The last thing we need is a cross-strait arms race, or diplomatic contention. What we most need is rule of law, and for both sides to spur each other to make further improvements in the area of human rights. Going forward, these universal values ought to be a shared language for the people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. Indeed, I intend to use them as the signposts that guide us in our efforts to build a free and democratic society for generations yet to come. These are the thoughts that come to mind on this 20th anniversary of the June 4th Incident. Peace is the direction in which I hope to take our cross-strait relations.

【Source: Office of the President】