In Thursday night's GOP debate, Donald Trump called the protests in Tiananmen Square a "riot."
Trump says twice that his comment was not an endorsement. He also calls what happened in the square a "horrible" thing. But he did not step away from the heart of his initial claim — the notion that the Chinese government exhibited "strength" by clearing the square using tanks and guns. Nor did he elaborate on why he chose to call what happened in the square that night a "riot." By independent accounts, it was not.
In the years since the killings, China's ruling Communist Party has gone to extreme lengths to stop discussion about what happened that night. The word "Tiananmen" is censored online and stricken from many histories. When the incident is discussed, the official line — which is contested by scholars and conflicts with witness testimony — is that the protest was in fact a "riot" (or "anti-revolutionary riot") and the People's Liberation Army stepped in to keep the city safe.
By using that language, Trump is lending credence to the Party's narrative about the men and women killed and injured that night — a point Ohio Gov. John Kasich quickly made.
Referencing the iconic "tank man" photo, he blasted Trump's version of events. "The Chinese government butchered those kids,” he said.
Liu Liu reported from Beijing.