The rapidly deteriorating ties between the United States and China took another turn for the worse yesterday as the two locked horns over Beijing's human rights record on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's statement marking the event enraged the Chinese government, which accused the US of meddling in its domestic affairs.
"Pompeo's so-called statement viciously attacked China's political system, greatly vilified China's human rights and religious conditions... seriously interfered in China's internal affairs and trampled on the basic norms of international relations," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.
"These lunatic ravings and gibberish are destined to end up in the trash can of history."
Mr Pompeo had paid tribute to the "heroic protest movement" in 1989 led by students calling for democracy, human rights and an end to corruption.
On June 3 that year, the Chinese Communist Party sent in tanks and troops, firing at protesters as soldiers forcibly retook Tiananmen Square during a crackdown that stretched into the morning of June 4. The death toll remains unknown, with estimates ranging from hundreds to the thousands.
In his statement, Mr Pompeo said the US had hoped that China would eventually become a more open and tolerant society after joining the international system. "Those hopes have been dashed."
He also denounced Beijing for "methodically attempting to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out the Islamic faith" by putting more than a million Muslims in re-education camps.
Mr Pompeo, as well as the European Union in a separate statement, urged the Chinese authorities to make a public accounting of those who died in the Tiananmen crackdown and release jailed dissidents.
The EU statement also drew the ire of the Chinese authorities, which yesterday similarly accused the bloc of interfering in its domestic matters and threatening relations between the two sides.
As vigils and commemorative events took place in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Washington and other cities, Beijing bore no signs of the anniversary, except for tighter security in and around Tiananmen Square. Hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police surrounded the area, conducting spot checks.
State and social media abided by an official blanket ban on any mention of the anniversary or event. The media blackout extended to practically all the foreign press, including The Straits Times and the Chinese-language Lianhe Zaobao, whose websites and apps were blocked.
The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said yesterday that numerous foreign journalists were intimidated, harassed and prevented from reporting from the square on Monday and yesterday. Some were ordered by the police to delete images on their cameras, while others were detained.
In Hong Kong, Victoria Park in the Causeway Bay shopping district was a sea of flickering lights as tens of thousands gathered in the intermittent rain for a candlelight vigil.
Organisers estimated that more than 180,000 people joined the event, while the police put the figure at 37,000.
Among those who turned up at the park early was retiree Cheung Hang Wing, 68, who has attended every vigil since the annual event started in 1990. "No matter how heavy the downpour, I will still come," he said, adding that when the massacre took place in 1989, he was in Hong Kong and "felt the direct impact on us".
For first-time participant Minna Ho, 27, the vigil was meant to be educational: "I have never attended this, but I have heard about the Tiananmen Square crackdown and wanted to know more, so I came alone."
Hong Kong is the only place on Chinese soil that allows such a massive protest where participants openly denounce the Chinese government and demand reform.
After the 2014 Occupy Central protests that brought the city's artery to a halt, the annual event has attracted a shrinking crowd as the younger residents became disillusioned. Differences between the organisers and pro-democracy student leaders, who said they held different views on China, were also a factor.
When asked, Mr Cheung said that the younger generation in Hong Kong were largely indifferent to Beijing's crackdown on student protesters then as many of them were not born yet.