Prim and businesslike PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu had her work cut out for her today.
The reporters in the room were smelling blood — a high-profile editorial by America’s most famous ex-hostages in the L.A. Times asserted that the North Koreans had abducted from Chinese soil. And this bombshell landed right in the middle of an equally high-profile visit of North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il to China. Here was China, poised to lose some face, but also possibly working some back-room deals between Pyongyang and Washington. The level of intrigue was higher than normal.
The first two questions at the press conference dealt with these issues in short order. Of course, in the case of Ling/Lee, the question was longer than the answer. And it’s a pretty good question, moving from the orthodox (“Regarding the American female reporters who had illegally crossed into North Korea…” to the new and destabilizing “they have recently stated that they were taken from within China’s borders by North Korean border guards.”
The precise question then becomes: “Does China have any comment on this? Will China open an investigation?”
Jiang Yu replies curtly and opaquely: “据向有关部门了解，没有发现你所说的那种情况,” or, “According to the understanding of relevant authorities, no one found the situation to be as you said.”
Google News takes some liberties with the translation, rendering it as: “As we understand from competent authorities, we did not find the situation as you described it.” Our translations, and thus the implications of the remarks are slightly different.
Perhaps you prefer the Google translation, but regardless, Jiang’s use of 有关 (you guan, or “related”) as opposed to 负责 (fu zi, or “responsible”) designation for the people who deal with this matter is interesting — does she mean Chinese? North Koreans? — and adds to the layers of vagueness with which China would like to smother the story.
But thanks to the press pool person in Beijing and China’s slightly more transparent than it used to be news market, at least the cat is out of the bag in a more public forum.
The next question centers on the idea that American Stephen Bosworth, in Beijing, might meet with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il. China moves past this by expressing some boilerplate language about reviving the Six-Party Talks, but then revealing Kim is currently in Suzhou Jiangsu (probably supervising some foreign-currency gathering activities and stirring a few more rumors that North Koreans are studying Chinese economic model, which is probably part tactical, part real, and sure to be reflected in the work of Selig Harrison).
For the record, here’s the full text of the exchange:
(Note: As no English version of the press conference exists yet on the Foreign Ministry website, it is quite probable that the exact syntax of the question may be different; I am working directly from the MFA’s Chinese version of the press conference. I also apologize for neglecting my interest in Sino-French relations by not analyzing the question about Nicholas Sarkozy at the press conference. Like Carla Bruni, the Chinese love to kick this guy around!)
On a side note, the Huanqiu Shibao carries this story of South Korean espionage in the PRC.