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China soft on North Korea

Seogwipo, South Korea, May 30 (AP): China’s premier said today that tensions over the sinking of a South Korean warship urgently need to be defused, but did not join other key nations in blaming longtime ally North Korea and gave no indication that he would support UN sanctions.

Premier Wen Jiabao’s comments came at the end of a weekend summit in South Korea where he was closely watched for signs that Beijing would get tougher on North Korea, which is accused of sinking the naval ship Cheonan with a torpedo two months ago, killing 46 sailors.

North Korea has repeatedly denied attacking the ship, and on Sunday tens of thousands of people packed the main square in the capital, Pyongyang, for a rally condemning South Korea and the US.

“Because of the South Korean war-loving, mad puppets and American invaders, the North and South relationship is being driven to a catastrophe,” Choi Yong Rim, secretary of the North Korean Workers Party in Pyongyang, told the crowd.

Wen joined the leaders of South Korea and Japan at the two-day summit, which was to focus on economic issues but was overshadowed by the sinking of the Cheonan, one of the South’s worst military losses since the Korean War in the 1950s.

At a closing news conference, Wen gave no clear indication that Beijing was ready to endorse South Korea’s plans to bring North Korea before the UN Security Council for sanctions or condemnation. China’s backing would be key because it wields veto power at the Security Council as a permanent member.

Nevertheless, Wen used China’s strongest language yet to describe the grave situation between communist ally North Korea and South Korea, a vital trading partner.

“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 will continue to work with every country through aggressive negotiations and cooperation to fulfill our mission of maintaining peace and stability in the region,” he said.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said the three leaders had agreed to continue discussing the ship disaster.

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