Byline: JONATHAN MIRSKY
YESTERDAY in Beijing, London Mayor Ken Livingstone brushed away the Tiananmen killings in 1989 by comparing them with the poll tax riots in London in 1990.
The Mayor was standing in Tiananmen Square, the largest manmade space on the planet, just after landing in Beijing with Sebastian Coe to discuss the Beijing Olympics.
Asked about Tiananmen's bloody past, Mr Livingstone said: "In the same way that Trafalgar Square has had an interesting history in the past, and not always a peaceful one, there is a very clear parallel." The poll-tax riots in Trafalgar Square, he added, were in his mind.
I was in Tiananmen throughout the demonstrations, from mid-April to the terrible night of 3-4 June. They ended with the deaths of hundreds of unarmed students and citizens.
I saw tanks roll over demonstrators and soldiers beating unarmed people to the ground and shooting them where they lay. Reporters were usually safe in China but on that night, the security forces, ordered by the Party to clear the square by any means, knocked out two of my teeth and broke my left arm.
What is less well-known is that throughout China, in more than 400 cities, demonstrators demanded an end to official corruption, a free press and the departure of the country'stwo most-hated men, Deng Xiaoping and Premier Li Peng.
Millions of people all over the country were arrested, imprisoned and tortured. No one knows how many were executed.
Although the Communist Party refers to what happened that terrible night as "the incident", Tiananmen remains the most neuralgic issue in China. Hundreds of those detained in 1989 remain behind bars or in the gulag, and to this day even the word "Tiananmen" on the Chinese internet, which is policed with the help of Yahoo, attracts a prison sentence.
Can any sane person compare this to what happened in London in 1990?
When 70,000 poll-tax objectors marched into Trafalgar Square, 400 were arrested and 115 people were injured, including police officers.
Some suggest that this event helped bring down Mrs Thatcher.
Mr Livingstone noted that "there is no such thing as one country with a perfect record". As to Tiananmen, he said: "My thoughts at the time I will discuss with my host tomorrow."
Why should the Mayor confide his thoughts only in private to the men who still lock up anyone who even mentions Tiananmen? This is the China Magic.
The Chinese, runs this contorted view, dislike public criticism so much that they must receive it "behind the screen". This means Mr Livingstone can revile George W Bush when he visits London but must not, as they say in China, "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people".
There is yet more to the China magic. China must be allowed longer than anyone else to catch up with universal values. Hence, the Mayor noted, the Peterloo massacre of 1819 in Manchester. At a suffrage demonstration, 11 citizens were killed by soldiers. So because of what happened almost two centuries ago in England, China must not be criticised in public today. …