ADELAIDE - The first Europeans who had contact with the Imperial Chinese government regarded their bureaucrats and officials as deeply inscrutable.
The Chinese had been trained to not reveal any indication of their true feelings or intentions to those they dealt with and, so it is said, often replied to direct questions with ambiguous answers.
Chinese language and symbology was and is similarly ambiguous. Slight changes in tone of voice can alter the meaning of a word or sentence. Similarly, written Chinese figures are full of subtleties and nuances.
In short, Chinese bureaucrats have long been the masters of using subtlety and ambiguity in saying one thing while meaning another.
I am sure that the lanterns on display in Port Moresby are, at one level at least, merely decoration. However, as many astute Papua New Guineans have realised, they also send another message.
That message is that China's power and authority has grown to the point where ostentatious displays of its cultural icons cannot be refused by those in power or, perhaps, are simply unrecognised as such.
PNG is on the path to becoming a tributary state to China: the loans and favours it has received will allow China to remorselessly tighten its grip on PNG's political and business elites.
This has been the modus operandi of the Chinese state over many millennia and the mere fact that the current government is ostensibly communist does not mean that this has changed.
By the time the powers that be in PNG become fully aware of their peril, I expect that it will be far too late to reverse course.
The Australian government has been gravely remiss in failing to understand what has been happening until far too late.
Its near panic reaction in "rediscovering" the Pacific nations to the north is belated recognition of this fact.
What damn fools they have been.