As the 16th Congress of China's Communist Party closed at the end of last week with the announcement of a new leadership, relatives of students killed in a brutal army crackdown in Tiananmen Square 13 years ago appealed to President Jiang Zemin's successor, and his politburo deputies, to set up an independent inquiry into the deaths.
In a letter to the Congress, circulated by New York-based Human Rights in China (HRIC), the Tiananmen Mothers urged members of the new Politburo Standing Committee to set up an investigative body to look into the army's actions in June, 1989, and to make its findings public and award financial compensation to the victims' families.
"The open letter makes a strong point in saying that the Chinese authorities can't hope for the June 4th Massacre to simply fade away with time, nor can they make it disappear through suppression," said HRIC's president Liu Qing. "The longer this impasse drags on, the greater the frustration and ill-feeling it causes. A speedy resolution is the only effective way to heal the nation's wounds," Liu said.
The letter from the Tiananmen Mothers, a group representing families of protesters killed or injured in the central Beijing square, also called on the Committee, the politburo's inner core, to accept responsibility for the killings which ensued when the People's Liberation Army stormed the pro-democracy protesters.
While there has been no official confirmation of the death toll, the group of mothers has compiled a list of 155 people who were killed and 65 who were wounded during the demonstration which called for, among other democratic protections, the introduction of a multiparty system in China where the Communist Party has ruled ever since a protracted civil war more than 50 years ago.
In television broadcasts on every national channel Friday, Jiang's successor, 59-year-old Hu Jintao, committed the party to continuing Jiang's doctrine of increased openness and dedication to meeting the material needs of the population.
China's formal entry into the World Trade Organisation last December is seen as a major step towards the nation of over one billion people becoming a focal destination for foreign investment and gaining more favorable access to overseas markets for its products.
However, organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have mounted strong lobbies among China's trading partners, particularly in North America and Europe, to take its human rights record into account during trade negotiations.
"The Chinese authorities are fully aware of the need to introduce reforms in line with China's rapid economic and social changes, and with the requirements of international trade agreements," said Amnesty in a statement released last month. "The reforms introduced so far, however, have focused almost exclusively on the economic aspects of the rule of law."
HRIC said it supported demands made by the Tiananmen Mothers for the new leadership to usher in political, economic, and social reforms, creating a more participatory political system. "If China's new Politburo Standing Committee can take the open letter of the mothers to heart, this will be an important step in the right direction," it said.
The nine-member Committee was presented in the local media over the weekend as a new generation of statesmen, aged in their fifties and early sixties, although it included at least six with strong ties to Jiang, who is reported to be remaining as head of the party's military commission.
Jiang is expected to hand over his position as president to Hu at the next meeting of the National People's Congress, the country's parliament, in March. Retiring with Jiang are five other elder leaders, including the former premier Li Peng, who took the decision to dispatch tanks against the unarmed students in Tiananmen.