A SERIES of foreign bankers visiting Beijing, and enjoying dinner with Vice-Premier Zhu Rongji, have come away with much more than expertise in the many ways in which a duck can be roasted. The visitors, most recently representatives of Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of East Asia, have come away with a much stronger flavour of the market into which they have poured so much over the past 20 years. With a better sense of the thinking behind the strategies of those steering this market through rather turbulent waters, they now feel more confident about their decisions to invest money and manpower. Chinese officials have thumped home the message - their first priority is to fight inflation. Foreign banks will not be allowed to run local currency business until the official yuan exchange rate and the swap centre rate are unified. That emerged from Standard Chartered's most recent visit. It was echoed by David Li, chief executive of the Bank of East Asia, who said after attending the banquet with Mr Zhu: ''The embargo on yuan deposit-taking and other local currency business will probably be removed first, possibly within the next two years.'' He quoted Chen Yuan, deputy governor of the central bank, as saying the two rates would be unified once inflation was under control. The messages are clear - control inflation and unify the rates, then foreign banks can participate in the local currency business. They heard the encouraging news that the Chinese Government recognised the likely contributions foreign banks could make in the whole reform process. ''The expertise of foreign banks will be indispensable in solving the operational problems [faced by Chinese banks]. With their first-hand knowledge of the Chinese economy, foreign banks can help establish a banking supervisory framework that is appropriate to China,'' Mr Li said. That is why the central bank is considering lifting the ban on foreign banks running yuan business in selected cities, such as the special economic zones. Progress has also been made by the central bank in removing the geographical limitations placed on the branch networks of foreign banks.