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Peking deploys the

selective corrective

If only, one can hear those cadres in Peking thinking, it was still possible to ignore the whinging from abroad about human rights and all that. But these days it can be bad for business to be accused of using prison labour to make export products, or of tolerating death-camp conditions in orphanages, especially when the annual battle in Washington over trade concessions for China is about to get under way.

So a new class of human rights "experts" has sprung up with the task of rebutting charges against the People's Republic, preferably by pointing out how tainted its accusers are. The latest product of this industry, a comparison of human rights in China and the US, demonstrates how it is done.

Method 1: The outrageous assertion. "Compared with the US," says the booklet, "the constitutional rights of Chinese citizens are much more extensive and specific, and the Chinese government assumes much greater duty in advancing and protecting human rights." The American document, it adds, "provides no right for Americans to have their basic needs satisfied or their right to avoid starvation or to be free from want".

Method 2: Dodgy definitions. The Chinese broadside lists every conceivable social problem in the US as a violation of human rights, drawing its ammunition from scaremongering American lobby groups, before concluding smugly that things are better in China. "It is not accidental that the term 'sexual harassment' was first used in the US," it says. "Although there is sexual harassment in China, it is not as rampant as that in the US." Drug-taking? "The situation in China is unlike that in the US, where abuse has become rampant." Aids? "There does not exist in China the Aids disaster that has been plaguing the US." Births outside marriage? Shooting up in the US, while "in China, such an abnormal phenomenon is quite rare".

No figures seem to be available for these problems, but where they are quoted we have Method 3: Ludicrous statistics. "Ninety per cent of all Chinese families lead a happy normal life," we are told, while "the US ranks first in the world in terms of family violence and the abuse and molestation of women." Proof of American race discrimination is the fact that of the country's five largest waste tips, "three are located in residential areas inhabited by ethnic groups".

Economic comparisons reach an apogee of selective quotation. Falling living standards in the US are shown by the fact that the purchasing power of an ordinary American family was $1,400 lower in 1993 than in 1991. But the actual figures are not given, in case ordinary Chinese realised how much worse off they still are, despite income per head doubling between 1977 and 1987 (from how much to how much we are again not told).

Not that ordinary Chinese are fooled, to judge from the numbers attempting to smuggle themselves into the US. They know that when it comes to "pouncing on one point and ignoring all others", to quote the tactic of which Peking accuses its accusers, China is definitely best.

Write a wrong

It gets them every time. Reuters newswires carried the following correction to one of its more gripping reports the other day: "In Colombo story headlined 'Sri Lanka desiccated coconut sector future unclear' please read in headline and second para... desiccated coconut ... instead of... dessicated coconut."

A classmate of mine at university couldn't spell the word either, and it landed him in jail. He had the bright idea of smuggling hashish into Britain in cans, and even had labels printed, identifying the contents as coconut of the dried variety. Unfortunately, someone in Her Majesty's Customs knew "dessicated" should have one "s" and two "c"s, and got his can-opener out. It is a tribute to the training of customs officers, and a sad comment on the education of my friend. His father was a professor, too...

Gospel truth

A Republican state senator in Alabama, Charles Davidson, wants more respect for some fine old Southern traditions - such as slavery. He says it was justified by the Bible, and that it was good for blacks.

"The incidence of abuse, rape, broken homes and murder are a hundred times greater today in the housing projects than they ever were on the slave plantations in the Old South," he claims. "The truth is that nowhere on the face of the earth, in all of time, were servants better treated or better loved than they were in the Old South by white, black, Hispanic and Indian slave owners."

He quotes Leviticus 25:44 - "You may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you" - and I Timothy 6:1 - slaves should "regard their own masters as worthy of all honour" - in support of his views.

While we are about it, why not revive that other grand old institution, apartheid? I recall that its proponents used to cite Joshua 9:21 - "Let them be hewers of wood and drawers of water" - as Biblical authority for racial domination.