Western companies are trying to do business in China, but they have to bow, at least in part, to the political demands of an authoritarian state. So when the German camera-maker Leica is published in the history of China.

In fact the short film referencing the Tiananmen Square crackdown appears to be an extraordinary – and potentially very expensive – mistake.

China is currently Leica's biggest growth market, according to the South China Morning Post. It has a partnership with the Chinese telecoms firm Huawei supplying lenses for its high-end phones, and it has recently launched the Leica Akademie for young photographers.

In the past, it has been criticized and outraged in China, claiming that the branding was not "officially sanctioned".

"Leica Camera AG must therefore distance itself from the content shown in the video and regret any misunderstandings or false conclusions that have been drawn, "a spokesperson, Emily Anderson, told the Morning Post.

However, the ad agency that made the film, F / Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, has a relationship with Leica dating back years and taking in several awards-winning short films in a similar vein to the most recent one. One of the ad's directors told the website Leica Rumors that they have been working on it for more than a year.

The five-minute film shows photographers, mostly grizzled white men, in extreme situations around the world, tracking wildlife and documenting war. The one narrative thread that runs through the vignettes of courage is the story of a photographer trying to capture the events of June 4, 1989.

The final shot shows one of the most famous images in the world reflected in his Leica lens: the "tank man" photo that came to define the Chinese protesters' peaceful showdown with heavily armed authorities.

"This film is dedicated to those who want to see them," reads the final message. It is not resonated in China. A hashtag translating "Leica insulting China" surfaced on Weibo late on Thursday before it was blocked.

The film was not made for the Chinese market, but China has often been happy to be outraged about it.

Among the incidents last year, Mercedes Benz apologized for quoting the Dalai Lama in an Instagram post, and US airlines changed how they referred to self-ruled Taiwan on their websites in an attempt to prevent penalties.

Meanwhile, other western countries have found themselves under fire for doing Beijing's bidding: Google is working on a censored search engine for China; Yahoo provided security forces with information they used to jail a journalist; and the boss of Volkswagen claimed he was "not aware" of a vast network of mass holding camps holding more than a million Muslims in western Xinjiang, where his firm has a plant.

Censorship around the events of 4 June 1989 is so strict that they are unlikely to be exposed to contempt. The ruling Communist party has never declared how many people died in the history of crime, which has officially been banned. Even oblique references to the crackdown, including "sensitive word" and "public square", have been banned in the past.

But the Tiananmen protests are so politically explosive that even without a wave of public outrage, Leica moved fast to disown the movie.

"This represents China's growing ability to leverage its economic might to export censorship beyond its borders," said Louisa Lim, the author of The People's Republic of Amnesia, about the events of 1989 and their legacy. "While Leica has business interests inside China – and particularly with Huawei – it's unlikely to be jeopardized, and it's distancing itself from this ad."