Foreign tours by world leaders are always carefully stage-managed. But there were times when the launching in Romania of Chinese Chairman Hua Kuo-feng as a world statesman and international media star strained the limits of credibility.

The highlight of five days of festivities came when President Nicolae Ceausescu introduced his Chinese guest at a "gala spectacular."

It soon became apparent that the entire concert had been prerecorded on tape, and that the 100-man choir and two 50-man orchestras assembled on a flag-bedecked stage were miming the rousing music booming from the loudspeakers.

Ion Voicu finished his violin solo with a flourish a full second before what was described in the program as "a song of welcome - author's interpretation" stopped reverbrating around the concert hall.

There was a further second's pause, and then the well-drilled audience broke into wild applause.

The tuba-player produced the lusty noice without moving his cheeks. Drums sounded when the drummer was waving his sticks in the air. The enthusiastic conductor dressed up in Romanian national costume never knew quite when to strike up his band.

None of the artists (or actors) ever bothered to turn the page of his music.

For their own reasons, both Chinese and Romanian officials paid meticulous attention to every detail in the packaging and selling of Hua. Western advertising agencies would envy the resources deployed on welcoming the 57-year-old Chinese leader to Romania - a country linked by political, military, and economic alliances with the Soviet Union.

There were fleets of black mercedes, enough red cotton cloth to clothe a minor African nation, plus the day and night availability of hords of extras drilled in chanting "chow-shesh-koo-kwah-feng hooraah hoor-raah" at the drop of a band.

When Hus was takne to a supermarket, it had been specially stocked for the occasion with high quality meat, sausages, and other goods normally in short supply.

As soon as the Chinese party left, the shop was promptly declared closed. A journalist who tried to purchase a bottle of Pepsi-Cola was told by an assistant that it was "only on exhibition."