Paramilitary policemen patrol along Chang'an Avenue near Tiananmen Square in Beijing
Policemen patrol along Chang'an Avenue near Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 2014.
Petar Kujundzic — Reuters
June 5, 2014 5:31 AM EDT

Chinese officials are less than thrilled with the White House’s remarks on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, breaking the usual Beijing tradition of keeping mum to issue the U.S. with a formal diplomatic complaint.

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the bloody end to protests, in which hundreds, possibly thousands of student activists and workers were killed in central Beijing while demonstrating for political reform. To commemorate the occasion, the Obama Administration released a statement “[calling] on Chinese authorities to account for those killed, detained, or missing in connection with the events surrounding June 4, 1989.”

Chinese authorities, in so far as they address the issue, maintain that the Tiananmen movement was a rebellion that threatened China’s stability. Mostly, however, they choose not to address it at all. Discussion of “June 4,” as the crackdown is colloquially known, is forbidden in China.

Not surprisingly, then, the U.S.’s comments left China “strongly dissatisfied,” Reuters reported on Wednesday night, shortly after an estimated 180,000 people gathered in Hong Kong for a candlelight vigil to honor those who died a quarter of a century ago.

“The U.S. statement on that incident shows a total disregard of fact,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. “It blames the Chinese government for no reason, gravely interferes in China’s internal affairs and violates the basic norms guiding international relations.”

While this isn’t anything particularly new — CNN described a similar back-and-forth on the anniversary two years ago — some political organizers say the Chinese government has become increasingly diligent in squashing discussion of the Tiananmen Square massacre under the leadership of Xi Jinping, who took power in November 2012.

“He has arrested more June 4 activists in the last half-year than the sum total of any other year before him,” Kayee Lau, a chief activist with the Tiananmen Mothers group, said at the vigil in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park last night. “Democracy in China has gone way downhill.”

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