China furiously hit out at the United States on Monday after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Beijing to come clean on the number of people killed in the 1989 Tiananmen protests.
Mr Pompeo made the comments on the 29th anniversary of the brutal crackdown of demonstrators in central Beijing, an incident which remains taboo in China.
Washington’s top diplomat said he remembered “the tragic loss of innocent lives” from the massacre, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds, possibly thousands of peaceful demonstrators.
“We join others in the international community in urging the Chinese government to make a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing,” he added.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing had long ago reached a clear conclusion about the events of the late 1980s, but the United States every year issues statements of “gratuitous criticism” and interferes in its internal affairs.
“The US Secretary of State has absolutely no qualifications to demand the Chinese government do anything,” she said, adding that Beijing had made “stern representations” to Washington over the statement.
Hu Xijin, editor of nationalistic tabloid the Global Times, called Mr Pompeo’s statement a “meaningless stunt”.
He said the “incident” was no longer discussed by the ruling Communist Party so that Chinese society can “look into the future without being mired in arguments”.
Meanwhile, the Tiananmen Mothers, who represent the families of those who died, described the crackdown as a “crime against humanity that seriously damaged our reputation as a nation.”
“During the past 29 years that this government has been in power, not one person has enquired after us, nor has anyone apologised,” a letter from the group said.
“It’s as if this massacre that shocked the whole world never even happened.”
The anniversary will be marked in Hong Kong with a rally which is expected to be attended by thousands of people.
The annual event is the only public commemoration to be permitted in China.