As Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, stepped off his plane in Birmingham on Saturday, it was difficult to avoid the feeling that the UK, and Europe, have never looked weaker in Chinese eyes.
In private, senior Chinese diplomats are now openly scornful of Britain’s economic prospects and have even asked why Mr Wen should grace such a weak trading partner with three days of his time.
Indeed, it is telling that the first stop on Mr Wen’s tour is Longbridge, the old MG Rover car factory that passed into Chinese hands in 2005. Once a byword for poor productivity, wildcat strikes and trade union power in its British Leyland and Austin Rover days, the plant is now host to China’s biggest industrial presence in the UK. Owned by Shanghai Automobile Industry Corporation, the factory designs and assembles MG cars in the UK made from car parts manufactured in China.