South Korea: The premier of China, North Korea`s main ally, offered condolences Saturday to South Korea for the sinking of a warship blamed on Pyongyang after promising his country — under pressure to punish the North — would not defend any country guilty of the attack.
Premier Wen Jibao later joined the leaders of South Korea and Japan in a three-way summit on the southern Korean island of Jeju, saying he hoped it would help achieve peace.
The two-day meeting was to focus on economic issues, but will likely be overshadowed by the sinking in March of the 1,200-ton Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors in one of South Korea`s worst military disasters since the 1950-53 Korean War.
"I hope this summit will conclude with solid results and that we will try together to ensure that it will contribute to world peace," Wen said, according to a Korean-language transcript released by the South Korean president`s office.
A multinational team of investigators said last week that evidence proved a North Korean torpedo struck the ship, and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has pledged to take the North to the U.N. Security Council.
North Korea has denied responsibility and warned that any retaliation or punishment would mean war.
Laying out the investigation results, Lee urged the Chinese premier during bilateral talks Friday to play an "active role" in convincing North Korea to admit its wrongdoing, the presidential Blue House said. Wen told Lee that his country "will defend no one" responsible for the sinking, Lee`s office said.
As North Korea`s main ally, China has faced growing pressure to take punitive action against Pyongyang for the sinking of the warship. But Beijing has been cautious about taking a stance, saying it still needs to examine the investigation results, Wen told Lee, according to a briefing by presidential adviser Lee Dong-kwan.
Wen offered condolences earlier Saturday to the South`s people and the families of the dead sailors at a meeting with South Korean Prime Minister Chung Un-chan, the prime minister`s office said.
"China is a responsible nation which insists on justice and is seriously considering the findings of the multinational investigation," Wen said, according to Chung spokesman Kim Chang-young. "China has maintained consistent views on the stability of peace on the Korean peninsula and opposes acts that destroy it," he quoted Wen as saying.
Japan has already given its backing to Seoul, and Tokyo recently instituted new sanctions against North Korea.
South Korean President Lee met with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Saturday in Jeju ahead of the three-nation summit.
Hatoyama reaffirmed Japan`s "active support," pledging to play a leading role in backing South Korea`s stance at the U.N. Security Council, according to South Korea`s Yonhap news agency.
A Japanese government spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Hatoyama paid his respects to the dead sailors earlier Saturday during a visit to the National Cemetery in Daejeon, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Seoul, en route to Jeju.
Tensions have been mounting after South Korea`s leader announced a slate of punitive measures against the North, including cutting trade, resuming anti-North Korean propaganda broadcasts across the border and launching large-scale naval exercises. U.S.-South Korean military drills are to follow in the coming months.
Also Saturday, some 20 South Korean military commanders met to discuss responses to the ship sinking, a Defense Ministry official said.
"They discussed how to cope with different types of North Korean military provocations and strengthen defense readiness against the North," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the meeting with the media.
South Korea`s military reported no unusual moves by North Korean troops in the last week, he said.
North Korea has accused Seoul of fabricating evidence in the ship sinking.
"The South Korean puppet regime`s faked sinking of the Cheonan has created a very serious situation on the Korean peninsula, pushing it toward the brink of war," Maj. Gen. Pak Rim Su, director of the powerful National Defense Commission`s policy department, said at a rare news conference covered by broadcaster APTN in Pyongyang.