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China's premier meets with South Korean leader as tension grows

By the CNN Wire Staff
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China-South Korea talks over sunken ship
  • NEW: Wen says China will not defend anyone responsible for sinking ship, officials say
  • Seoul talks come during time of high regional tensions as South Korea blames North
  • Seoul says it is adopting a newly aggressive military posture toward Pyongyang
  • North Korea disputes report, says it will meet "confrontation with confrontation"

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Friday that while his country will not defend whoever is responsible for the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, it is not ready to accept South Korea's investigations that blame North Korea for the incident, officials said.

Wen, China's second-ranking official, refrained from using strong language against North Korea during Friday's bilateral summit in Seoul, adding that his government has not decided whether to accept a South Korean investigation's findings that blame North Korea for the so-called Cheonan incident last March, South Korean officials said.

Investigations conducted by South Korean officials claim that last March, a North Korean mini-sub slipped though the de facto western sea border firing torpedoes at the Cheonan South Korean Navy ship, killing 46 people on board and escalating diplomatic tensions between the two rival nations.

During Friday's summit, Wen expressed his condolences to the South Korean people and the victims of the attack and said China will condemn any entity that disturbs peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Video: China pressured over N. Korea
  • South Korea
  • North Korea
  • China
  • Wen Jiabao
  • Lee Myung-bak

He also said that Beijing will pay close attention to the international community's response to the incident as it assesses its response to the incidence, officials said.

South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak is seeking support from the Chinese government in its role as a mediator between the two rivaling nations.

As a main ally of North Korea, China has has showed caution in denouncing the communist nation.

A press officer close to the meetings said Wen's government will hopes to monitor the international investigation and the international reaction regarding this investigation in order to judge it objectively and fairly.

The press officer said Wen said he will work with the Korean government closely and hopes to solve this issue with the South Korean government in an appropriate manner.

So President Lee asked China to play an active role in asking North Korea to admit their mistake.

Officials sad Lee handed Wen up a three-page abbreviated report of the 400-page investigation by South Korea of the warship sinking. The report claims that North Korea provoked the incident. The press officer says the abbreviated report was given to Wen.

North Korea has denied the South Korean report's claims. And China, long North Korea's main international supporter, has steered clear of publicly taking sides on the issue.

But two senior U.S. officials who briefed reporters Wednesday said they expected China to make an official statement on the incident later this week or over the weekend, during Wen's visit.

"I think it would be fair to suggest that China is in the process of looking hard at what its interests are in the Korean Peninsula and its positioning vis-a-vis North Korea," said one of the senior U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of not being identified by name due to the sensitivity of the diplomatic issues involved.

They spoke while returning from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip to Asia, which included meetings with Wen and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

In a televised speech last week, Lee said that South Korea was suspending trade with North Korea, closing its waters to the North's ships and adopting a newly aggressive military posture toward its neighbor.

North Korea reacted to a South Korean anti-submarine exercise Thursday by saying it would meet "confrontation with confrontation" and war with "all-out war," according to North Korean state-run media.

Clinton, visiting Seoul on Wednesday, called the ship's sinking "an unacceptable provocation by North Korea" and said the international community should respond.

Lee has said South Korea will bring the issue before the United Nations Security Council.

On Saturday Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama will also have a chance to weigh in when he joins Wen and Lee for a three-nation summit on economic issues on the South Korean island of Jeju.