Seogwipo: China held back from
joining the chorus of nations condemning North Korea over the
sinking of a South Korean warship, making quick international
sanctions unlikely but perhaps buying time while China quietly
leans on its unpredictable, nuclear-armed neighbour.
As Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met with his South Korean
and Japanese counterparts today, tens of thousands of North
Koreans rallied in their capital, clapping their hands,
pumping their fists and and shouting slogans against South
Korea and America, according to video footage from APTN in
South Korea has taken punitive measures against the North
since a team of international investigators said this month
that a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine tore apart
and sank the warship Cheonan on March 26, killing 46 sailors.
North Korea vehemently denies attacking the ship and has
warned that the South is risking war by attempting to punish
Beijing didn`t appear ready to support possible action in
the UN Security Council against North Korea, its longtime
ally. But Wen`s closing remarks at today`s meeting seemed to
signal that it was becoming more engaged in the crisis.
"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
Beijing has long tried to mediate disputes between the
Koreas, and it often likes to maintain an appearance of
neutrality. The Cheonan sinking poses an awkward challenge for
China, which is under pressure to go along with sanctions but
wants to maintain its friendship with North Korea, an
unpredictable buffer state whose collapse could cause
instability on a long Chinese border.
China unwillingness to criticise Pyongyang now might mean
it`s trying to use quiet negotiations to convince North Korea
to come clean on the ship attack, one of the South`s worst
military losses since the Korean War in the 1950s.
If the ship sinking makes it to the United Nations, it`s
possible China will support sanctions like it did last year
when the global body punished Pyongyang for its nuclear and
ballistic missile programmes. But it also could make sanctions
impossible as a veto-wielding member of the UN Security