China May Shield North Korea as Lee, U.S. Seek Action

Bloomberg News

May 27 (Bloomberg) — Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is likely to resist pressure to acknowledge that North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship when he flies to Seoul tomorrow to meet President Lee Myung Bak and Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama.

China hasn’t followed South Korea, Japan and the U.S. in blaming North Korea for the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors. Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun yesterday repeated a call for “restraint” by both sides and said China had no “firsthand information” on the sinking.

China wants to avoid a conflict on the Korean peninsula, and is concerned that taking South Korea’s side may provoke North Korea into further escalations and even lead to war, said Shen Dingli, vice dean of the Institute of International Affairs at Shanghai’s Fudan University.

“North Korea is dying, and we can make things worse,” Shen said. “We have assumed North Korea is not a rational actor.”

South Korea’s navy today began exercises off its western coast, including anti-submarine operations involving the firing of depth charges, a military official said. About 10 warships are participating in the two-day drill, the official said, asking not to be identified because of security concerns.

China has a big stake in stability in Northeast Asia. Japan and South Korea are China’s third- and fourth-biggest trading partners after the European Union and the U.S., with combined two-way trade reaching $485.1 billion in 2009, Chinese customs figures show.

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