IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Chinese defense minister says Tiananmen crackdown was justified in rare comments

Tuesday marks the 30th anniversary of the protests, in which Chinese troops opened fire to end the student-led unrest.
China's Defence Minister Wei Fenghe addresses the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore on June 2, 2019.ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP - Getty Images

China's defense minister on Sunday defended the bloody crackdown on protesters around Beijing's Tiananmen Square 30 years ago.

Responding to a question at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore, Wei Fenghe said the crackdown was the "correct" decision, citing the country's "stability" since then.

It is rare for Chinese government officials to acknowledge the events of June 4, 1989; references to it are heavily censored in China.

"Everybody is concerned about Tiananmen after 30 years," Wei said.

"Throughout the 30 years, China under the Communist Party has undergone many changes — do you think the government was wrong with the handling of June 4? There was a conclusion to that incident. The government was decisive in stopping the turbulence."

He added that China's development since 1989 showed that the government's actions were justified.

The Tiananmen protests were "political turmoil that the central government needed to quell, which was the correct policy," he said.

"Due to this, China has enjoyed stability, and if you visit China you can understand that part of history."

From the archives: NBC News coverage of Tiananmen Square

Tuesday marks the 30th anniversary of the protests, in which Chinese troops opened fire to end the student-led unrest.

Rights groups and witnesses say hundreds or even thousands may have been killed.

China has never provided a final death toll.

Wei's comments echoed those of Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian, who last week decried the use of the word "suppression" to describe the military's response to the 1989 protests.

China at the time blamed the protests on counter-revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the ruling Communist Party.

The event will not be officially commemorated by the party or government next week.

This file photo taken on May 21, 1989 shows students sleeping on the ground at Tiananmen Square in Beijing as student sit-ins entered their ninth day during the Beijing Spring movement.NAOCHIRO KIMURA / AFP - Getty Images

Wei also said Sunday that a war with the United States would be a disaster for the world while issuing a warning to Washington not to meddle in security disputes over Taiwan and the South China Sea.

"China will not attack unless we are attacked," Wei said, cautioning that there would be dire consequences to any clash between China and the United States.

China-U.S. ties have become increasingly strained due to a bitter trade war, U.S. support for Taiwan and China's muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom-of-navigation patrols.

In May, the Trump administration raised import taxes on $200 billion of Chinese imports from 10 percent to 25 percent. China retaliated by raising tariffs on $60 billion in U.S. goods.

China has also been incensed by recent moves by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration to increase support for self-ruled and democratic Taiwan that mainland China claims as its own territory.

Wei said China would "fight to the end" if anyone tried to interfere in its relationship with Taiwan.

The United States, like most countries, has no formal ties with Taiwan, but is its strongest backer and main source of weapons.

On Saturday, acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan blasted China in a speech to national security leaders in Singapore, saying that the U.S. is not going to ignore Chinese behavior.

"I think in the past people have kind of tiptoed around that," Shanahan said.