One journalist said he preferred to work on his tennis. Another could understand some of the questions, but not the answers. A third was applauded by colleagues for reading out from notes. A makeshift press conference in a remote country whose language is virtually unknown to the outside world? No, a Foreign Ministry briefing in the capital of the most populous country on earth. China announced earlier this year that it planned to start holding its Foreign Ministry briefings in Chinese rather than English. That duly happened this week, and underlined the linguistic divide between China and some of those who report on it. In international terms, the Chinese move was entirely logical: can one imagine the French Foreign Ministry holding its press conferences in English or, for that matter, the State Department briefing in Chinese? But the relatively small number of Chinese-speaking foreign correspondents and the complexities of the language have produced a situation where many news organisations do not expect their journalists in Beijing to be as fluent in the language as their men and women in Bonn, Paris or Moscow. This has created the ironic situation in which the change to the national language may produce confusion rather than clarity. In the past, the spokesmen's words were reported as spoken - in English. Now, they will be subject to the vagaries of translation which may vary from journalist to journalist. There is a simple answer: for all correspondents in China to be proficient enough in the language to do the job. A basic matter, one might think; evidently not to judge by this week's evidence.