China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it cannot confirm foreign media reports that former Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin has died of an illness, RTHK reported on Tuesday.
Responding to a reporter’s question at a regular press conference on Tuesday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “It’s the first time we’ve heard of the hearsay, and it can’t be confirmed.”
This is China’s first official response to rumors about Jiang’s death, the report said, adding that this particular portion of the question and answer session was omitted from the press release on the ministry’s website.
The latest rumor about Jiang’s death emerged over the weekend, spreading across China’s social networking sites Weibo and WeChat. Citing sources from the People’s Liberation Army 301 Hospital, it said the former leader has died of bladder cancer, according to an Apple Daily report.
Japan’s Tokyo Shimbun reported on Aug. 30 that Jiang was seriously ill from bladder cancer, and was sent to a hospital in Shanghai, adding that his condition was deteriorating.
However, the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Wednesday quoted an unnamed source as saying that Jiang is healthy, adding that reports about his death were pure rumors.
Another official, using his real name on Weibo, said Jiang recently left Beijing and celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival in his hometown in Yangzhou in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, according to the paper.
Jiang, 88, was last seen in public on May 20 when he met visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In China, the health condition of high-level officials is regarded as state secret, and this has led to frequent speculations.
In a commentary, Ming Pao Daily said Jiang is a political “has-been”, and, as such, his current condition will have little impact on China’s current political situation.
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