27 Jun 2011

Are the curtains of Number 10 safe from China's Mr Wen?

I think I was 8 years old. I had been taken by my parents to a brand new suburb called Crawley New Town. It was 1956 – and we lived in the depths of the Sussex countryside. But not so deep as to prevent a 45 minute run to what I then found to be a rude awakening to Britain’s suburban future.

But my Dad was not simply anxious to introduce his boy to this endless succession of brick “semis”, but to the leaders of the Soviet empire. Khrushchev and Bulganin were legends in their own somewhat oppressive lunchtimes. I knew the Russians were the new enemy. The Daily Express – the only paper I saw at school – told me so. But for some reason my deeply conservative father wanted me to set eyes upon the communist “enemy”.

When I did so that morning, they looked exceptionally boring. Two old, slightly overweight guys in ill-fitting double breasted suits. They looked like unsuccessful gangsters.

Why do I suddenly conjure this uninteresting memory? More than fifty years on, another communist, another time. Now my “enemy” is my friend. No time for Crawley New Town. This time it’s Longbridge and beyond. China’s Premier, Wen Jiabao lands in Birmingham, not at the once spanking new Gatwick.

Mr Wen is here to buy, not to sell. The old Ruskies thought they were stealing a propaganda march on “Super Mac” Macmillan. Mr Wen needs no such propaganda coup. He’s only here to remind us who is now boss – of much more than Longbridge’s once imperial production line. What greater emblem than that he should control the MG production line – a car once more British that the British.

And yet, it seems we have more influence over Mr Wen’s treatment of his own people, than ever we had on Khrushchev’s. Two hugely prominent, globally renowned, China dissidents, Ai Wei Wei and Hu Jia, have had to be moved from jail to house arrest as if to try to stem potential street protests to the Chinese Premier’s visit. Can these releases really have been “coincidental”? Hu Jia, China‘s most active activist for Aids victims, was bunged inside to prevent embarrassment during the Beijing Olympics.

Read more: China and UK in £1bn trade deals

Is all this mere window dressing? Certainly even as a child I though Wen’s counterparts’ visit was little more. I was assisted by my dad telling me through the rear view mirror, as we rattled along the A23, that communism was a very nasty sport, and that these men might look cuddly but that they wore steel toe caps. These days we don’t discuss Mr Wen’s toe caps. We don’t even discuss his brand of communism. He’s on the up and we are on the down.

Welcome to the new world order! Consolidated this sunny morn, by the intriguing election of the father of Brazil’s food programme to head the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Jose da Silva beat Spain’s former Foreign Minister by 92 votes to 88. The South has finally overwhelmed the North to run one of the UN’s major aid programmes. Will Mexico seize Strauss Kahn’s dented IMF crown against France’s beguiling Finance Minister? Will Mr Wen carry off the curtains from Number Ten?

Follow Jon Snow on Twitter: @jonsnowC4

Tweets by @jonsnowC4