China refuses to rebuke North Korea over sinking of warship
South Korea and Japan have failed to convince China to admonish North Korea publicly for sinking a South Korean warship.
It had appeared that China was toughening its position during a two-day summit, after Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, said that Beijing "would not protect" whoever was responsible for the destruction of the Cheonan.
The South Korean corvette sank with the loss of 46 lives at the end of March.
Lee Myung-bak, the South Korean president, and Yukio Hatoyama, the Japanese prime minister, pushed Mr Wen to declare Pyongyang responsible for the sinking.
The Chinese premier gave no sign that his country would join multilateral condemnation of North Korea, which remains a firm ally of Beijing.
"The urgent task now is to defuse the impact of the Cheonan incident, change the tense situation and avoid clashes," Mr Wen said.
"China will actively communicate with relevant parties and lead the situation to help promote peace and stability in the region, which fits our common and long-term interests best."
A investigation by South Korea, with the help of Britain, the US, Sweden and Australia, has determined that a North Korean torpedo was responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan. It was the worst act of aggression by Pyongyang since a Korea Air flight was downed in 1987, with 115 deaths.
South Korea has said that it will go to the United Nations Security Council to call for the north to be punished. Without Chinese support, however, there seems little chance that Pyongyang will have further sanctions imposed on it. Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, was in China earlier this month and has signed an agreement giving it use of a strategically important seaport.
South Korea has already said it will cut off trade with its northern neighbour, but has found its options limited by a general fear of North Korea's nuclear arsenal.
North Korea has denied any involvement in the sinking of the corvette and has threatened war with the South over the issue. (© Daily Telegraph, London)