Keeping quiet on Kim
Is North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il sick? Would the Chinese government - a neighbour and ally of North Korea - tell us if it knew anything about his health?
We tried to find out at a regularly scheduled foreign ministry briefing held here in Beijing (briefings are held twice a week at the foreign ministry's headquarters).
The briefings are well-organised events. You go through a metal detector and take a seat in an auditorium decorated with plants. In case you get bored before the spokesperson steps onto the stage, there's some piped music for you to listen to (in the most recent briefing we enjoyed a subdued acoustic version of "Under the Boardwalk" followed by "The Sounds of Silence").
The spokesperson came out and was asked three times about Kim Jong-il's health...
Question One: "Can you comment on reports that Chinese doctors treated Kim Jong-il after he reportedly collapsed on August 22? Can you comment on his health?"
Foreign Ministry: "I have no information on that."
Question Two: "Has the Chinese government actually spoken to Kim Jong-il to pass on its best wishes for the 60th anniversary of the founding of North Korea? If not, when was the last time the Chinese government spoke to Kim Jong-il?"
Foreign Ministry: "The two countries have maintained friendly exchanges, frequent co-ordination and communication."
Question Three: "There are reports that Kim Jong-il is ill. Can you comment?"
Foreign Ministry: "I have not heard of that."
(The answers were given in Chinese. The English versions above are from the official English interpretation provided at the briefing).
So, if the Chinese government does know anything about Kim Jong-il and his health, it's decided - for now at least - not to speculate about it in public.