China told South Korea yesterday that it will not defend whoever it determines was responsible for the sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors, the South Korean government said.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) made the comments after meeting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak amid tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the March 26 torpedo attack near the disputed North-South sea border.
South Korea, the US and Japan have condemned North Korea after a multinational investigation blamed Pyongyang for the attack. China, however, has taken a more cautious position.
Beijing would decide its stance after considering international probes and the reactions of all countries, Wen told Lee, according to a briefing by presidential adviser Lee Dong-kwan.
“China will defend no one” whatever the outcome, the adviser quoted Wen as saying.
China’s backing would be key to any bid to condemn or sanction North Korea. Beijing, a veto-wielding permanent UN Security Council member, so far has refrained from committing to council action against Pyongyang, its neighbor and traditional ally.
Wen’s comments could not be independently confirmed. Xinhua news agency made no mention of a pledge not to defend those responsible in its report on the meeting.
However, Xinhua did quote Wen as saying China would make a judgment on the cause of the incident in an “objective and fair manner” and “take its stance on the basis of facts concerning the sinking of a South Korean warship.”
China “always opposes and condemns any acts detrimental to peace and stability on the peninsula,” it quoted him as saying, adding that Beijing “takes serious note of the results of a joint investigation by South Korea and other countries, as well as the reactions of all parties.”
Wen’s remarks appear to show China is sensitive to South Korean anger over the incident and rising criticism of Beijing’s reluctance to endorse the investigation results or criticize Pyongyang. Chinese leaders were pressed hard on the issue during talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other officials in Beijing earlier this week.
Seoul has already expressed its displeasure over Beijing’s hosting the North’s leader Kim Jong-il on a visit just weeks after the sinking.
Wen’s pledge as reported by South Korea not to defend the perpetrators may also be a sign that Beijing won’t exercise its veto at the UN Security Council.
Wen’s pledge as reported by South Korea not to defend the perpetrators may also be a sign that Beijing won’t exercise its veto at the Security Council. That would likely be conditional on any measures taken against the North being symbolic and unlikely to further destabilize the regime.
Wen and Lee met at the Blue House a day before a three-way summit that will also include Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.
Lee’s spokesman Park Sun-kyu said in a statement that South Korea was “fully concentrating on diplomatic efforts to hold North Korea responsible.”
He said the matter would be discussed yesterday, at the weekend summit and at a security meeting in Singapore early next month.