Chinese president Jiang Zemin addressed the inaugural dinner. The Chinese leadership recognised that this was their moment in the limelight and Shanghai was dressed up for the big event. Entire gardens, complete with bizarre hillocks and trees, sprouted in the middle of the city where residents swear there was just rubble two weeks earlier. Even the underbellies of flyovers received a coat of fresh paint days before the event. The combined energies of the command economy and the capitalist entrepreneurial flair that have transformed China in the past couple of decades were showcased in microcosm in Shanghai. If the grandees attending the conference needed to get to the mayor's dinner reception, no problem, traffic was diverted so that they could be sped away. The heavy hand of the regime ensured that street dwellers and migrants from the villages were rounded up days before the event and placed out of sight.
Aside from the leadership's intolerance of anything approaching a political challenge, no one visiting Shanghai that week could have been left in any doubt that 'Communist' China is a contradiction in terms. The official organ, China Daily, after all, saw fit to write a front-page story celebrating the arrival of the visiting corporate elite. The lucky tycoon whose corporate jet was the first to touchdown in Shanghai's new airport and thus merited a front-page splash? One Robert Rich.