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Chinese leader still cool to rebuke of North Korea

SEOGWIPO, South Korea – China’s premier said today that avoiding conflict between the Koreas over the sinking of a warship is most urgent, but did not express support for a bid by South Korea and Japan to condemn North Korea at the United Nations for allegedly carrying out the attack.

China has been facing intense pressure from Seoul, Tokyo and Washington to join efforts to punish North Korea over the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean naval ship that investigators say was ripped apart by a North Korean torpedo two months ago. Forty-six sailors died in the incident – the South’s worst military loss since the Korean War.

Wrapping up a two-day summit with South Korea and Japan on the Korean resort island of Jeju, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao showed no clear public signs that Beijing was ready to rebuke North Korea.

“The urgent task for the moment is to properly handle the serious impact caused by the Cheonan incident, gradually defuse tensions over it, and avoid possible conflicts,” Wen said.

China, North Korea’s main ally, wields veto power at the U.N. Security Council as a permanent member, so its support would be key to any bid to condemn or sanction the North there.

Last week, senior U.S. officials said after holding talks in Beijing that China is likely to gradually endorse the view that North Korea should be held accountable.


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