A QUARTER of humanity held its collective breath and hoped the Taoiseach would change his mind.
But Shanghai Bri’s little local difficulty back home meant that Sino-Hibernian relations would have to go down as just the latest victim of an emergency budget that was short on everything — except creating emergencies.
They handle internal dissent differently here and Brian Cowen’s no show will be taken as a sign of weakness, just as it will by the Gang of One — Finian McGrath.
On arrival at Shanghai’s airport, you are invited to electronically grade the passport control person as they inspect your documents. You can press either “very satisfied”, “satisfied”, “this has taken too long”, or “unsatisfied”.
In a democracy this would seem a wonderfully empowering advance, but in China you can’t help wondering what will eventually happen to the person who keeps getting low grades — it still being a one-party state and all.
How different to the one party in our own state that has dominated Irish politics for these past 20 years.
All too many Fianna Fáilers would be happy to grade Mr Cowen’s performance over medical cards in a similar way, with “this has taken too long” and “unsatisfied” topping the ratings.
But if Shanghai was shamed by Biffo’s lack of respect, it did not show it.
Not really surprising for a city that is the new New York, already leaving Beijing in its wake, about to bypass Tokyo before surely dominating this century as the now crumbling Wall Street did the last century.
A superpower rising has little time to spend on a Taoiseach in decline after just six months in the top job.
Anyway, Shanghai thrilled to the news it was still getting Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe — crisis or no crisis.
And as the old Chinese proverb goes: “When you’ve got Batt-man you don’t need a Robin’ Taoiseach snatching medical cards from the over 70s.”
Mr Cowen’s last-minute decision to snub Shanghai is, of course, the second “October surprise” of diplomatic shock China has experienced in recent political history.
It is almost 36 years to the day since US president Richard Nixon stunned the world by turning up in what we used to call Peking.
But then, Mr Nixon didn’t have as much on his agenda as beleaguered Mr Cowen, dodgy Dickie was just embroiled in Vietnam, negotiating nuclear disarmament with the Soviets and at the climax of a re-election campaign at the time.
It’s sure that if he had to panic clean up his own mess after failing to see that grabbing back health benefits from the elderly might not be the smartest thing to do, no doubt, Mao would have been let down in a similar way to Shanghai.
Though let’s hope that when (if?) Mr Cowen eventually makes it to Beijing tomorrow he will be a bit more eloquent than Nixon, who after being shown the Great Wall of China, declared: “That sure is a great wall!”
There is a silver lining though in the snub for the Chinese, for if Mr Cowen brings up the issue of human rights when he meets Premier Wen Jiabao in the Great Hall of the People on Thursday, the capitalist Commies could easily hit back by asking about pensioners’ rights to healthcare in Ireland.
The following day will see Biffo hold talks with Vietnamese Prime Minister Mr Dung, which will be a headline writer’s dream after the past week’s chaos, confusion and crunch Dáil votes.
Mr Cowen may have been Shanghaied by his rebels, but Batt-man will surely do a valiant job keeping warm Ireland’s seat at the international top table while Biffo battles back home.
Though, as the People’s Republic of Cork’s capital is twin city to Shanghai, there may be some sympathy here for the rebels.
Brian will still, hopefully, make it for the EU-Asia summit at the end of week in Beijing, where dear old Lisbon is bound to rear its ugly little head again.
A simmering crisis at home, a lingering crisis abroad, Biffo buffeted from Ballina to Beijing.
The Chinese are not about to take away Mr Cowen’s calamities.
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