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Yesterday, Chinese mobile provider China Unicom was reported to have purchased five million iPhones from Apple and would launch the überpopular smartphone in September. But today, the company denied that such a deal has been made.

"The report is not true," China Unicom spokesman Yi Difei told the Associated Press.

As we reported yesterday, Wednesday's International Business Times cited the ever-popular but always anonymous "well-informed source" as saying that China Unicom had paid Cupertino 10bn yuan ($1.46bn) for 5 million iPhones.

China Unicom exec Zhou Youmeng told the IBT that the launch details had been finalized and that the company was preparing to offer the ChiPhone for sale in September. In addition, Yu Zaonan of China Mobile's Guangzhou office provided pricing details.

Today, spokesman Yi told the AP, in effect, "Not so fast."

"Talks between us and Apple have been going on for some time, but no agreement has been reached yet," he said. "There are all kinds of possibilities. There is no particular timetable for the talks."

An Apple spokesperson in Beijing, Tiffany Yang, also denied the report, telling the AP that she had no info about a ChiPhone agreement.

But it's Yi's and Yang's job to deny reports from loose cannons. As professional spokesfolks, they're required to parrot the company line - and Apple has historically demanded that its partners not release any information until Cupertino is good and ready to let the word out.

Witness, for example, how Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit general manager Eric Wilfred ducked questions about Apple's support for Exchange in Mac OS X Snow Leopard during a call with reporters on Thursday.

When Apple says "Don't talk," Apple's partners don't talk.

Then again, we can't know whether Zhou or Yu actually knew what they was talking about when they said the ChiPhone was imminent or were merely passing on rumors they had heard. And we'd be willing to bet a yuan or three that they've both received blunt phone calls from China Unicon headquarters telling them to keep their lips zipped.

So will the ChiPhone emerge in September? Those who will make that decision don't want you to know. ®

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