THE president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Mr Juan Antonio Samaranch, witnessed a spectacular opening to the first East Asian Games in Shanghai last night. Mr Samaranch, who travelled from Beijing in the early afternoon, was the guest of honour at an extravagant, colourful show, rounded off by a gigantic fireworks display in the Hongkou Stadium. Although Mr Samaranch was given a standing ovation by a capacity crowd of 30,000, he did not, as expected, offer official words of support for the East Asian Games or for China. Having taken in what Shanghai had to offer, the most powerful man in Olympics heads back to Beijing this evening and later this month goes to Sydney - Beijing's main rival in the multi-million dollar bid to stage the 2000 Olympic Games. Mr Samaranch, along with his entourage of IOC officials, must have marvelled at the two-hour spectacle. ''The people of Shanghai support Beijing's Olympic bid,'' read a large banner inside the stadium. And outside the stadium the local authorities pulled off a clinical operation by clearing traffic and blocking side streets on the routes to the stadium from the various hotels housing athletes and officials. Thousands of people lined the streets as the convoys moved through and the return journey was lit up by coloured lights as the city came alive to the games. Mr Samaranch had hardly taken his seat when he was up again for the Chinese national anthem - a tune which will become very familiar over the next nine days as the Chinese athletes are set to dominate the 12 sports. The Japanese delegation led out the nine teams, followed by a group of 60 Shanghai girls dressed in Japan's national costume surrounding a float carrying a model of Mount Fuji. Then came Taiwan, followed by Hongkong, whose float depicted a high-rise office block with a crown on top and with an escort of girls dressed in silver space suits. Tenpin bowler Cat Che, an Asian Games gold medal winner in Seoul in 1986, had the honour of carrying the Hongkong flag. North Korea, South Korea, Mongolia - led by three near naked wrestlers on a chilly evening - Macau, Guam and finally China, with its 402-strong delegation, completed the march. The games were declared open by the President, Mr Jiang Zemin, before the Olympic flame was lit. Mandarin was used throughout the ceremony, with only a few words in English. Despite this barrier, the message from China to Mr Samaranch was loud and clear in the games' anthem, The Rising East Asia. It recounts that ''here the sunrise is the earliest. Here civilisation dawned first . . . ''Rising East Asia, you've begun a brilliant new chapter . . . ushered in a new era of prosperity.''