Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said on Friday that Beijing would not defend those responsible for the sinking of a South Korean warship, the office of the South Korean president said.

Mr. Wen, who is on a three—day visit to South Korea, added that Beijing “opposes and censures any kind of act destroying peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” the Yonhap news agency quoted Lee Dong Kwan as saying. The Chinese premier’s meeting with President Lee Myung Bak was overshadowed by increasing strain between the two Koreas after the March 26 sinking of the corvette Cheonan, which caused the deaths of 46 sailors. Beijing, one of Pyongyang’s few international allies, remained sceptical about North Korea’s responsibility for the incident.

Beijing has so far not concluded that North Korea was behind the sinking, Mr. Lee Dong Kwang said. An international team of investigators found evidence of a North Korean torpedo at the wreck site, a charge Pyongyang derided as trumped—up. President Lee was expected to try to persuade China, one of the last remaining allies of communist North Korea, to support Seoul’s punitive measures against Pyongyang.

Seoul wants the UN Security Council to discuss the sinking and also pass new sanctions against the Stalinist state. China, which has veto power in the council, has so far been reluctant to acknowledge calls to punish North Korea, possibly fearing further instability in the impoverished state. Seoul asked China to send its own team to assess the investigation that concluded North Korea was responsible for the Cheonan’s destruction. Wen said China was to decide “fairly” on its position regarding the Cheonan after reviewing an international probe into the incident, the presidential spokesman said.

“The Chinese government will determine its position in an objective and fair way with the clarification of the rights and the wrongs of the situation, thinking highly of the international investigation and the international community’s response,” Mr. Wen was quoted as saying.

Mr. Wen made clear that “China would not patronize anyone” found to be responsible, the spokesman said.

Russia, another veto—wielding member of the Security Council, is sending a team of specialists to South Korea, news reports said.

Mr. Wen, Mr. Lee and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama are to meet for a trilateral summit on the South Korean island of Cheju in the weekend with the tensions on the Korean Peninsula high on the agenda. This week, Seoul announced a far—reaching cut in economic ties with North Korea and held naval manoeuvres. Pyongyang retaliated by cutting all ties with Seoul, expelling South Korean officials from a jointly run industrial park in its border town of Kaesong and threatening war in case of new sanctions.

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