In Singapore, I kept being told how fast China is modernising and changing. And it is true that the first thing that you see as you come out into the arrival hall at Beijing airport is that symbol of American-led globalisation – a giant Starbucks.
But yesterday evening I went to an official banquet, where the official style was very Communist – and the food was like something from Britain in the 1950s.
I should explain that I’m travelling with a small group of American and European think-tankers, sprinkled with a couple of diplomats. I am the lone journalist. Last night we had dinner with Zheng Bijian, who is chairman of the China Reform Forum and the man who coined the famous phrase “peaceful rise” to describe China’s emergence on the world stage. But apparently these days even “peaceful rise” is deemed to be too provocative, so the new formulation is “peaceful development with harmonious characteristics”. I feel more re-assured already.
Verbal formulas are pretty important round here. On a couple of occasions last night, Mr Zheng told us gravely: “Taiwan is a core national interest for China. We have no room for manoeuvre on this issue.” In other words – if the bastards declare independence, we’re invading. Otherwise, he was affability itself. We got the usual toasts of friendship. And we also got nine courses of food – starting with cream of mushroom soup and ending with banana split; all washed down by a cabernet sauvignon with Chinese characteristics.