This weekend saw the world commemorating the days in June 1989 when the CCP’s People’s Liberation Army cracked down on a crowd of almost a million people who had gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to protest. The mass protest was the culmination of four years of unrest against corruption and a lack of political freedom. The PLA waited until most of the crowd had gone home before it moved on the hundreds of thousands of people — mostly students — who had remained to hold the square for the next day’s protests. The military used machine guns and armored vehicles to disperse the protesters.
Photos taken during and after the incident show bodies lying next to bicycles and crushed barricades that the protesters had built. The CCP said only 200 civilians died, but other sources estimated that more than a thousand had died. In 2017 newly released UK documents revealed that a diplomatic cable from the British ambassador to China at the time, Sir Alan Donald, said that 10,000 people had been killed.
This year, the incident was commemorated with vigils around the world, including in Taiwan. A similar gathering in Hong Kong led to the detention of multiple people. As Taiwan is one of the most free democracies in Asia, the fact that anyone who dares to remember the massacre in China and Hong Kong could get arrested is a stark reminder of why Taiwan has chosen not to give up its weapons and accept Chinese rule.
Over this same weekend we also saw the final speeches of the leaders of the world’s two largest militaries at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, an Asia-Pacific defense summit that was held in Singapore this year. On Saturday U.S. defense secretary Lloyd Austin rebuked China for its unwillingness to sit down for talks in his keynote speech, saying that he was “deeply concerned” that the People’s Republic of China “has been unwilling to engage more seriously on better mechanisms for crisis management.”
When the international media reported on Austin’s speech, which happened in the late afternoon of Saturday, the outlets also mentioned that one U.S. destroyer and one Canadian frigate were transiting the Taiwan strait after sailing through the South China Sea. Those same two warships would later show video evidence of a Chinese destroyer cutting in front of the U.S. destroyer in an aggressive maneuver — at around the same time that Austin was delivering his speech.
China’s new defense minister delivered his speech the next day at the same summit, during which he made many remarks aimed at the U.S., calling on it to “mind your own business” when he spoke about two recent close encounters — Saturday’s warship clash and an earlier incident where a Chinese fighter jet cut in front of a U.S. surveillance jet.
In a separate development that holds importance for Taiwan’s military defenders, the Pentagon confirmed on Thursday June 1 that it has hired SpaceX to provide communications services to Ukraine via the company’s constellation of more than 4,000 Starlink satellites. SpaceX has provided Ukraine with such a service since shortly after the conflict began, enabling the country to communicate with the outside world after its internet cables were cut by invading forces. However, SpaceX later said that it had spent $80 million to provide this service and could no longer do so without financial support. The Pentagon did not disclose contract details such as cost, contract timing or the length of service because of concerns about operational security.
The Starlink news is important for Taiwan, as it is considering the Starlink service as one of the most effective ways to stay in contact with the world if China cuts the undersea internet cables that connect it to the world. Ukraine’s ability to reconnect to the internet allowed its citizens to upload footage of the war, which helped to inform the world and to create sympathy for Ukraine’s defenders and civilians. Taiwan’s new Ministry of Digital Affairs has stated that it is planning to do the same if China launches an invasion or blockade.
In another move aimed at supporting both Taiwan and Ukraine, the U.S. Navy recently took the lead in the Pentagon’s efforts to speed up delivery of weapons to the two nations. The Navy leaked an internal memo on May 19 which announced earlier in the month that it had created the Maritime Accelerated Response Capability Cell (MARCC), a sort of “bureaucratic rapid reaction force” that will handle requests from the Defense Department for urgent deliveries of navy-related weapon systems to U.S. allies who face imminent threats. The MARCC will work across the Navy and Marine Corps — including their research labs, acquisition offices, fleet warfighters and resource sponsors who can offer funding — to rapidly find and field solutions for the Pentagon’s requests for emergency deliveries.