Behold Shanghai — the Cork of the Orient.
China’s dazzling second city’s inexorable rise to become the new New York and the real capital of capital means it can probably afford to take Enda Kenny’s clumsy comparison of it to Ballymun in its stride, but the Taoiseach still had to tread carefully when he met the mayor of the 23m-strong megapolis.
The two men decided to avoid talk of Enda likening the cityscape to the notorious slum flats of north Dublin whose heroin needle chill U2 immortalised in their lyrics, and instead concentrated on Shanghai’s lovely “sister city” on the banks of the Lee.
The mayor spoke warmly of his city’s Irish twin and how much their peoples had in common and to learn from each other, which is probably just as well as Shanghai seems to have mislaid the present Cork sent it to seal their sisterhood in 2005.
Despite being proudly listed on the wall of city hall, embarrassed officials were unable to locate it in the glass cabinet of gifts lining the entrance.
Not that it was brought up in the sumptuous surroundings of the VIP greeting room where Enda was entertained.
Mr Kenny has proved far more adept at charming the Chinese than his predecessor. He turned up for a start, which is an improvement on Brian Cowen’s no-show in 2008 when his cack-handed approach to the economic collapse saw pensioners protesting on the streets of Dublin forcing him to cut his visit back to a quick stop in Beijing.
Not so Mr Kenny, who spent two-and-a-half hours working the room of a business breakfast and sparking sporadic outbreaks of mild Endamania as he did so as Shanghai’s movers and shakers jostled with each other to have their pictures taken with him.
And with the rock star treatment came the rock star lifestyle as Enda clambered back into his 20-vehicle motorcade and was whisked through downtown traffic to take the plane to Beijing and the luxury St Regis Hotel. We are not allowed to know what type of suite the Taoiseach is in, but the hotel is so top dollar that the presidential one costs 11,000 of them a night.
But Enda’s handlers are at pains to point out that its all been paid for by the Chinese who are a great bunch of lads and, sure, wouldn’t it be rude to say no?
And Enda did do well to get here at all, as David Cameron has been knocked back for some time because the regime does not like visitors in its time of leadership transition.
Which, again after heir apparent Xi Jinping choosing Ireland as his only European visit on an international tour last month, prompts the question: Why us?
Maybe they think its still too risky to try and take back what they call their rogue province of Taiwan and they would be better off buying three and a bit provinces in the Atlantic for a bargain bucket price.
And Mr Kenny was certainly then greeted at the state guesthouse with red carpet treatment by Mr Xi as the waiting journalists and photographers were corralled in by two men holding a thick rope which soon became known as the media leash.
Effectively herded by the orange and yellow rope, the media were moved into the formal greeting room to hear incredibly bland and stilted remarks by the two leaders about their “deeply pleasant memories” of Mr Xi’s visit to Ireland, until after exactly three minutes, the gentle but firm crack of the media leash was felt again and the journalists were, literally, pulled out of the room by the two men wielding the rope.
But then the freedom of the press, even to leave a room, is something not that highly prized in China.
Enda had tried to import Irish values into the country by extorting our Four T’s, such as talent, but he did not have all the T’s in China as he left out the fifth one — tribunals, but it was hardly a surprise when he predicted the little Mahon matter would not put off investors from the Orient — and with China’s reputation for corruption and human rights abuses, he is probably not wrong.
Amid the rosy glow on the banks of the Yangtze though, one UCC exchange student remarked that he felt safer on the streets of Shanghai than he did back home — not quite the feel good message Fáilte Ireland would really want to be pumped out in these parts.
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