From Tiananmen Square, that huge, implacable face stared out at us – yes it was Mr Huw Edwards doing a BBC News report, live from China as Mr Frown flew in to ask, very nicely, if we couldn't have some jobs please.
There is a NEW formula, nowadays, for talking to the People's Republic of China – avoid all talk of PEOPLE. And anything to do with being a REPUBLIC. And don't call them CHINA either – it's Chung Kuo.
Anyway, apparently it is OKAY to talk about global warming – that way you can be mildly CRITICAL and they can say "ahh, but we are improving and anyway, you did all this first". What you MUST NOT do is mention human rights, because they are not interested and frankly they think we have got to be kidding anyway what with our record of Guantanamo Bay, Abu Grahib, rendition flights and Celine Dion.
President Sarcastic of France kept to this formula, and managed to flog a whole load of ATOMIC POWER STATIONS as a result. The Monkey-in-Chief went and talked to the Dalai Lama and since then the Chinese have CRUSHED HIS CURRENCY like a bird's nest in soup.
Great Britain, of course, has a LONG history of FRIENDSHIP with the region, going back to the Boxer Rebellion and the Opium Wars. Er… they probably won't remember that though, will they?
For us in the West, Human Rights in the Middle Kingdom remain a VEXED and COMPLICATED question. We cannot just IGNORE them as we have in the past and pretend that they are some poor country cousin, especially as they grow in POWER, both diplomatically and, perhaps more importantly, financially.
Because, although remaining "communist" in name – in fact the Communist Party has basically replaced the old Imperial Bureaucracy, a sort of bizarre feudal meritocracy-cum-corruptocracy – the truth is that the PRC government has changed its policies considerably since the 1970s, and particularly since the economic powerhouse that is Hong Kong was absorbed back into the Republic in 1999.
However, that financial success may in fact be the key, as a burgeoning middle class, with higher income levels and better, broader education may lead to more freedom of thought in the East just as it did – eventually – in the West.