People's army scores victory over British

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China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) has scored a decisive victory over the British Army. The battleground, never before traversed by the two armed forces, was a rugby pitch in Hong Kong where the PLA triumphed by 12 points to 7.

The Chinese will arrive in Hong Kong in three months' time, replacing the British as the garrison. Could the British side, largely composed of members of the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch, have been diplomatically letting the incoming military side score a victory?

Absolutely not, insisted the battalion's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Alasdair Louden. "We wanted to win - you could see by the tackles," he said.

All the worse for them, then. China is hardly one of the world's leading rugby-playing nations, though the PLA is reported to regard the sport as "good training". The Chinese side was drawn from the PLA Sports Institute in Guangzhou, currently one of the few teams in the country. Seasoned rugby watchers declared them to be the fitter team, though Lt-Col Louden thought not. But "they have 2 million men to choose from, we have just five hundred", he declared.

It is indeed true that the British garrison is being run down to a shadow of its former self, though it is not clear how many men China intends to station in Hong Kong.

For while the British and Chinese troops were battling it out on a green field in the centre of Hong Kong, British and Chinese diplomats in London were preparing for another round of negotiations on the stationing of Liberation Army troops in the colony prior to the transfer of sovereignty on 30 June.

The victory in yesterday's sporting encounter may therefore be seen as something more than symbolic, although both sides were keen to suggest that it was nothing more than a game - which would make it about as non- political as the Olympic Games.