Exclusive: Who was the foreigner who sneaked into Tiananmen Square to protest the 2008 Beijing Olympics?

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The Chinese Communist Party’s construction of concentration camps in Xinjiang and its detention of ethnic minorities such as the Uyghurs and Kazakhs are causing resistance in Xinjiang to the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. After more than 180 NGOs called on countries to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics, the European Union Parliament, the Canadian Parliament, the Australian Parliament, and the British Parliament passed motions demanding that their government officials not participate in the Opening Ceremony the Winter Olympics.

Beijing lost the right to host the 2000 Olympic Games in 1993, four years after the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Thirteen years ago, Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics, and the Beijing authorities made concessions in terms of openness and freedom to ensure a successful event. Allowing a degree of “press freedom” was an official requirement of the Games. On the eve of the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government relaxed the “Great Firewall,” blocking restrictions and unblocking some overseas websites.

During Beijing 2008, there was a small protest at a hotel in Beijing and in Tiananmen Square. Among the protester was a Westerner who eluded the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and police and brought the human rights situation in China to the attention of the Western media in Beijing. Who was he? Thirteen years later, Eat News found this man in Los Angeles.

“My family is American of Mexican descent. So we live here, and my parents were born in the United States. My father was in a special unit of the Marine Corps during World War II, and he fought against the Japanese in the Pacific. In particular, he went to Qingdao, China, and worked with the Chinese army against the Japanese army”, he told us. His name is Eddie Romero, a retired U.S. Marine and now a pastor.

Photo: Fausto Chou/Eat News

Born into a Marine Corps family, Eddie’s father instilled a love for his country from a young age. “We love the United States of America, not because it’s perfect, but because it allows us to excel to flourish.” Out of love for his country, Eddie joined the Marine Corps as a young man of 18. “I joined during the Vietnam War. So when I was 18 years old, my first flight was from California to Okinawa and then to Vietnam. I was in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969,” he said.

Before the Vietnam War, the U.S. military service was compulsory. Unlike others young men, Eddie volunteered to join the Marine Corps. “When I was 17 years old, I wanted to go into the Marine Corps, but the Marine Corps said no, you have to be 18 to go in the Marine Corp unless your father sides. So I went to my father’s at 17. I said, ‘Dad, would you sign for me to go in the Marine Corps?’ And my father said, ‘No, I will not sign because, son, if you come back dead, I would have signed your death certificate.’ And he could not do it. I said, ‘But dad, I’m almost at 18 years old, it’s just a few months away’. He says, ‘fine, you sign up when you’re 18, but I’m not going to sign it.'”

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At the age of 18, Eddie went to deployed to Vietnam after training, and that was the first time he saw the brutal side of war. “The first time we got into a firefight, it was when we fought the enemy at night. Almost every firefight we had, every battle we fought, was at night because the Vietnamese Communists never wanted to fight us in the daytime. After all, they couldn’t win. We had overwhelming power, overwhelming strategy. They knew that. So they’d do it at night, and they could fight us under cover of darkness. So when I first saw the first body, I was so shocked that I had to control my emotions and not show my feelings. Because a few minutes before I had seen that man walking around and he was the enemy. But at night, I didn’t realize that’s what he was. But somebody saw him and shot at him. Then everyone started shooting. When the shooting stopped, I saw his body lying there. It didn’t even look human anymore. He looked like he had gone through a meat grinder. The bullets had riddled his body with holes. It was an incredible experience for me. As I said, nothing can prepare you for that. You have to say somehow, well, I saw it, I saw the face of war, I saw the horror of war.”

The war was brutal. However, 39 years later, Eddie, is no longer in the military and is a paster, and in 2008 chose to confront the communist regime again. Unlike his time in the Vietnam War, this time, he was alone. In 2001, the International Olympic Committee granted the People’s Republic of China the right to host the Summer Olympic Games 2008. Eddie recalled, “When I saw that moment on TV, I was furious. Because the International Olympic Committee has a human rights standard that every country that applies must meet, and China has never met that standard. They don’t even do the minimum for human rights. They are the biggest persecutors in the world. The IOC is not complying with its own standards.”

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From that moment on, Eddie decided to plan a protest in Beijing. In 2008, Eddie first booked three hotels. He then began to “transform” the rooms. “I transformed them from five-star hotel rooms to interrogation dungeons.” According to NBC News, Eddie painted the rooms with the slogan “Beijing 2008: Our World, Our Nightmare” and splashed the walls of his two hotel rooms with demands for the release of five Chinese activists. He slashed pillows and staged mock killings with stuffed people propped on the bed and red paint spattered like blood on the headboard.

A hotel room at the Novotel is seen after it was painted with slogans by American pastor Eddie Romero in Beijing on Aug. 6. He also staged mock killings of stuffed people on the beds. Photo: Aritz Parra/Associated Press

After the “transformation” of the room was completed, Eddie sent a message to the Western media. His friends even told the press that Eddie planned to surrender to Chinese authorities when the Olympics ended on Aug. 24. From that moment on, the Chinese military and police began a city-wide search for Eddie. Eddie told us that he was hiding in the northwestern part of Beijing’s 5th Ring at that moment. There are eight Buddhist temples near the location where he was hiding. “I went there, but next door to the temple was an abandoned military base. I knew they would never look for me at the military base. They thought I would be somewhere else. So I was able to sneak past the guards into the military base and hide in a hole in the ground inside.”

Eddie was hiding in a military base in Beijing Photo: Eddie Romero

Eddie brought food and water and spent some time there. During this time in hiding, he prayed and read the Bible. “On August 24, when the games were over, everything stopped when they set off the last fireworks. I put on clean clothes, and I went back to Tiananmen Square. At that time, there were more than a thousand people in Tiananmen Square. As I raised my voice, I began to quote the Bible in Mandarin from Exodus 8, verse 1, saying, ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me.’ I demand that the Chinese government release five people. I have listed the names of these five people. Some of them are Christians, and some are Buddhists. At this point, people took their cameras and started taking pictures. Soon plainclothes police showed up, and they started taking away people’s cameras and cell phones. The plainclothes police grabbed them because they didn’t want anyone to know that I was there”.

Eddie standing in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: Eddie Romero

Subsequently, Chinese police arrested Eddie and began interrogating him. They eventually took Eddie to a black site. He said, “But all the time, they didn’t know I had a phone was hidden on me. And I was doing audio streaming with my phone, and they did not know it. By the way, they took me to the black site and interrogated me. They beat me first, at first, but then backed off. That was it, for the whole night.” Eventually, after negotiations between the U.S. and Chinese governments, Eddie returned to the U.S. even though the Chinese government had confiscated his passport, and he was placed on the Chinese Communist Party’s blacklist.

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Thirteen years after the event, as Beijing plans to host the Winter Olympics in 2022, Eddie reminded the Taiwanese government that no dignitary from Taiwan should go to the Beijing Winter Olympics. “I think every country should send our athletes to the games. And, when they play by the rules, they deserve to win. But I think the heads of state should boycott the opening ceremony, and no dignitary or official should go there”.

While the Chinese Communist Party has recently been intimidating Taiwan with military force, Eddie specifically told the people of Taiwan, “In the United States, we have a pledge of allegiance that says, here is the phrase: ‘One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ To the people of Taiwan, I want to say, love God and love your country. Freedom is not free. There is a price to pay. And people have to be willing to pay the price.”

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Fausto Chou is a Taiwanese journalist. He has been the executive editor of the Eat News since June, 2020. He previously worked for the Eastern Television (ETTV) and Formosa Television (FTV) as a journalist.

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Eat News is a Taiwanese digital media, analyzes current events and issues through column articles, videos, visual aid, and exclusive interviews.

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