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Koreas vie to enlist China’s backing

The two Koreas appeared to be jockeying to attain Chinese support on the sinking of the Cheonan, for which a multinational investigation team said the North was accountable.

Seoul’s best bet is to persuade China with the help of the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

Beijing has so far maintained a neutral stance, saying it was still assessing the results of the multinational investigation.

China seemed unready to side with Seoul.

During a summit with President Lee Myung-bak on Friday, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said Beijing will not protect anyone regarding the South Korean ship’s sinking.

Wen stressed that China will clear its position after scrutinizing the (Cheonan) case in an objective and fair manner in consideration of the international community’s response to the probe.

South Korea hopes to punish Pyongyang riding on the back the U.N. To do that, Beijing’s vote will be essential since it is a veto-wielding nation among the five permanent members of the council.

One veto would mean no new resolution for penalizing Pyongyang, as all permanent members need to reach a unanimous vote, according to those close to the matter.

Last week, a multinational team of investigators including South Korea concluded that Pyongyang was culpable for sinking the Cheonan on March 26, killing 46 sailors.

South Korea is currently hoping to bring the issue to the U.N. as early as next week, but before that it will need a reassuring nod from China.

As a part of efforts to attain Beijing’s support, Foreign Ministry officials met with the Chinese ambassador here to brief him on the results of the multinational probe.

Wi Sung-lac, chief nuclear negotiator to the stalled six-way talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs, recently met with Wu Dawei, China’s special representative on Korean Peninsular affairs.

He also chairs the six-party talks, which have been on hold since Pyongyang conducted a rocket launch in April last year. Seoul is now saying it would not come to the discussions before the Cheonan issue is wrapped up.

The North, which continues to deny that it was involved in the sinking of the 1,200-ton warship, is also relying on China for support.

Beijing usually has taken sides with the reclusive regime, with the exception of when the council slapped on stringent economic sanctions for North Korea’s second nuclear test last year.

The allies are said to be attempting to convince China with assurances that further sanctions would be aimed not to topple the North Korean regime, but to ultimately help Pyongyang return to the international society.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said getting the North to change its direction was an “international responsibility” when she was here Wednesday for a meeting with Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, for his part, reportedly implored to China that his regime was not involved in the Cheonan incident when he met with Chinese President Hu Jintao for a rare visit.

The North is also further claiming innocence in talks with Chinese diplomats, government sources said.

Pyongyang has come under increased international scrutiny after Seoul announced that it found the regime accountable for sinking the Cheonan.

Over 20 nations have expressed their support for South Korea.

The North fears economic isolation the most, those close to the matter say, as it is already struggling from harsh financial conditions in the aftermath of a botched currency reform and the U.N. sanctions.

It recently threatened to shut down Gaeseong Industrial Complex but has yet to take such measures.

South Korea has also been upping the ante against the North, declaring its intention to restart anti-North propaganda campaigns and tighten its defense posture with the aid of the U.S.

Anti-submarine drills have been started in the process, and more such allied training is expected for later this year.

By Kim Ji-hyun  (jemmie@heraldcorp.com

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