China, ID cards and others

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China's economic growth can't excuse its human rights record

China's economic growth can't excuse its human rights record

Sir: Hamish McRae ("The biggest boom in history could see China overtake the UK by next year", 8 April) is awed by the spectacular results of China's conversion to global capitalism. He writes that the Chinese boom has implications for us all but he does not say what those implications might be. With almost a quarter of the world's population, China's booming car ownership and accelerating energy consumption will doubtless make a sizeable contribution to global warming and the melting of the Greenland icecap which is reported elsewhere in the same edition of your newspaper as threatening global catastrophe.

The environmental implications of China's headlong rush to material wealth should concern everyone, not least the Chinese themselves. However, one suspects that the economists' mantra of "growth is good" overrides all such concerns. Indeed, as our Western multinational companies, not to say our universities and our tourist industries, all feed from the same "success", it is quite bad manners to question the wisdom of such "progress".

There is a further dimension to developments in China which receives little attention, presumably for similar reasons of etiquette. The events in Tiananmen Square in 1989 have been seemingly airbrushed from history in China and abroad. Human rights are routinely abused in a country that to all intents and purposes remains a police state. China is run by a self-selecting oligarchy with scant regard for the rules of law and natural justice. According to Amnesty International, a senior Chinese legislator suggests that China executes around 10,000 of its citizens every year, a higher incidence of judicial killing than in the rest of the world combined.

There is routine and systematic torture of political prisoners, suspects are denied access to lawyers, political interference in the judicial process is endemic, and summary executions are not uncommon. Freedom of speech and association is severely curtailed, even 25 years after Deng Xiao Ping began China's famed liberalisation.

It is easy to excuse China's appalling human rights record on grounds of expediency given its vast population. If we accept that logic then we may give up altogether on defending humanitarian and democratic values such as freedom of expression. Our principles are doomed. No matter, we shouldn't worry, since before long we shall all be under water in any case. Meanwhile, let us continue to celebrate the further success of China's economic miracle.


Who has the right to see our ID cards?

Sir: If we are forced to carry these widely unwanted identity cards ("Blair and Blunkett plan to make ID cards compulsory by 2008", 5 April), how are we to know who we should show them to? I believe that police officers already carry some kind of police identity card, but I should not recognise one if shown one, and I should certainly not recognise a counterfeit one.

I shall therefore be happy to show my card to any official who requests it, but feel it reasonable to expect that the official should confirm his or her identity and right to ask. I would happily accept a current passport and recent utility bill or bank statement or equivalent.

However I remain uncertain as to how I acknowledge the official. Dare I propose a salute with a straight arm and a shout of "Heil, Blunkett!"?


Sir: The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, is in favour of the introduction of ID cards in the UK. He has said: "We don't actually know who is in London at the moment". Of course we don't know who is in London at the moment. And the only way "we" (for which read the police and the Government) could know would be to regularly stop everyone, ask them to produce their card and input their location into a database. Or perhaps there could be scanners at the end of the road which we swipe as we pass? Or perhaps we wouldn't have to do anything as proactive? Perhaps the scanners could read our ID cards remotely?

Sir John tried to dress up his support for using ID cards to track people's (that's us, by the way) movements by saying the information gained would help in planning health, education and welfare services. Do you believe him?

London SE23

Sir: Most opponents of ID cards use the bogus argument that the security such cards bring would so easily be circumvented by forgery. But how? For domestic consumption at least the card itself isn't even necessary. All that is required for our interaction with authority is that the authority has an accessible record of our unique finger or eye print. Forgery isn't even an option.

The weakness in such a system is in the initial build-up of data in preventing bogus identities being registered in the first place. Once registered it would require collusion on a grand scale to substitute one unique identity for another.

Current departmental records are no doubt already contaminated with bogus and multiple identities but multiple identities would automatically be weeded out by the unique identifier and most (if not all) bogus identities by cross reference to registered births, deaths and legal immigration.

Keighley, West Yorkshire

Sir: How many people ever bothered to carry their ID cards during the Second World War? At the start of the war I was an apprentice plumber and never carried my ID card as it would more than likely have been either lost, destroyed or disfigured in some way. After my call-up of course I carried a pay-book cum ID. Blunkett's nonsense reminds me of other daft ideas such as barrage balloons (which made millions in profits for the rubber companies but never ever deterred an air raid).

Yet another nonsense was the black out. In 1942 we had such a bad winter that, from above, almost the entire country could have been identified by any bomber navigator because all the roads and rail network were clearly identifiable from up there. For the pilots above it must have made an excellent map.


Sir: No wonder Mr Blunkett is so keen to announce new projects. It may take our minds off all his previous failed ones. Aside from his recent problems with immigration and prisons, schools are still paying the price for his barmy education policies. And while he is trying to foist a new high-tech ID card on us he has probably already forgotten the mess he made of the Individual Learning Account scheme, which wasted £97m of taxpayers money.

Warnings to Mr Blunkett that the system was open to abuse were constantly ignored and the Commons' Public Accounts Committee concluded that: "The department's risk assessment and risk management were not fit for the purpose." Of course, with Blunkett in charge, the ID card project will surely founder. The only question is how many of us will be criminalised in the meantime.

Barnet, Hertfordshire

Deathly drinking

Sir: Regarding "Pints and pubs: Haunts of Britain's literary greats" (9 April), yes, scholars accept the Grapes, formerly the Bunch of Grapes, in Narrow St, east London, as a model for Dickens's fictional Six Jolly Fellowship-Porters. But no, the imaginary tavern "of dropsical appearance" in Our Mutual Friend (1865) never served as a staging post for murders.

Abbey Potterson, sole proprietor and manager, ran her river-frontage pub with an iron hand, and expelled any customer on whom suspicion alighted for dark deeds, specifically Gaffer Hexam, a Thames waterman wrongly accused of helping to death "those that he finds dead". As a river-dredger, Hexam earned a precarious living scouring the Thames for any refuse he could pick up. Finding corpses whose pockets might contain money was a sensational but small part of his daily life.

The practice to which you refer - of getting patrons sozzled prior to dumping them in the Thames and selling the bodies for dissection - seems to conflate something they have imagined with that of Dickens's "resurrection men", who, earlier in the century, dug up freshly buried corpses and sold them to medical students in need of bodies.

Ms Potterson's pub is described as "a bar to soften the human heart". Her patrons went there, we learn, for hospitality and mulled ale, not to ply the unsuspecting with drink and profit from their watery death.


Care and cancer

Sir: I heartily endorse Anne Holland's comments about the care she received from Southend Hospital when she was diagnosed with breast cancer (letter, 9 April). I, too, was treated there, for a different cancer, a couple of years ago and had an equally positive experience. Someone at Southend has been thinking very carefully about cancer care and it shows. I have several friends who have been treated for cancer at other hospitals in mid- and north Essex and they too have had nothing but praise for the high quality of the service and the kindness of the staff that provided it. On the other hand, another friend that was treated elsewhere in the country had a different story to tell.

Many of the factors that contribute to a first class service for cancer patients have nothing to do with money and everything to do with imagination, patient-focused thinking and good management. Indeed, I am sure that excellent care also beats poor, disorganised care on cost effectiveness as well. The challenge is to bring services across the country up to the standard set by hospitals like Southend.

Maldon, Essex

Bicycle genius

Sir: John Walsh's article on Christiania (Review, 6 April) brought back vivid memories of my visit in the Seventies to see Jesper Solling, the bicycle maker mentioned. Jesper is indeed an engineering genius but he was not the inventor of the "cats cradle" cycles. This was Mikael Pedersen, another Dane, who came to Dursley in the late 1800s with his ideas. Some 30,000 were made in the town, production ending on the out break of the First World War.

In the last 30 years several attempts have been made to replicate "Dursley Pedersens", successfully so in Germany and Christiania. Jesper's genius rests in the fact that his creations were developed solely from the sight of a single old picture of an original.

Dursley, Gloucestershire

School work

Sir: So the exploitation of school support staff is set to end ("Classroom assistant's husband tackles minister over her 'check-out staff pay'", 8 April)? Apparently, the Schools minister was unaware that Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) were being exploited in our schools! Forgive me for being cynical, but I find this hard to believe, especially as the Labour government is attempting to cover its failure to retain teachers by using support staff to plug the gaps on the cheap.

I also find it insulting that LSAs' appeals for better treatment have been more or less ignored, but as soon as a deputy headmaster calls for something to be done it makes the headlines. The answer is simple - pay school support staff a wage that genuinely reflects the job they do. And do so for 52 weeks. Funny how Minister Twigg and his fellow MPs don't lose pay when they are on holiday.

Uxbridge, Middlesex

Selling out

Sir: So the Conservatives want our help in making a 30-second television advert (report, 8 April)? I have the perfect one: "Labour is half-heartedly dragging us into a war on terror that cannot be won. Labour is reluctantly failing to raise sufficient in taxes to fund our ailing schools, hospitals and public services. Labour is toying with restricting immigration. Labour is thinking about curbing your freedom through the introduction of identity cards. We will do all this and more, and with far greater enthusiasm."


Memorise this

Sir: How are we to manage our ever increasing reliance on pin numbers and passwords? Filed away on that deteriorating short-term memory hard disc. We mustn't write them down and our memories become less reliable as we get older. A suggestion: select an artist, a politician, a writer, a scientist, anyone famous who you admire (or hate), pick out names, birth and death dates, titles or subjects of their works. If you forget the specific detail you can obtain it from a reference book.

Lichfield, Staffordshire

Spelling test

Sir: It is a pity that Philip Hensher, when supporting correct spelling (Opinion, 9 April), fails to uphold the valuable distinction between writing about a word and using the word. No one could spell Nietzsche - Nietzsche was a flesh and blood man, not a word - though, with luck or care, we can spell "Nietzsche". A cat might be let out of the bag, but "bag", being a word, contains neither a cat nor indeed "cat".

London W1

Magna musical

Sir: If you asked John Peel, he'd tell you Magna Carta (letter, 8 April) are one of the world's longest- running bands, founded in 1969.


Poultry control

Sir: Regarding your correspondence on misleading signs, one of our local footpaths runs across a farmyard where "chickens keep dogs on leads".

Bridgwater, Somerset