China's number two official has assured South Korean authorities that Beijing will not obstruct justice in the sinking of a South Korean naval ship. Premier Wen Jiabao paid a state visit to Seoul on Friday, where officials lobbied him for cooperation in punishing Pyongyang at the United Nations Security Council.
A South Korean presidential spokesman quoted Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao Friday as saying Beijing "will not protect" those responsible for sinking South Korea's patrol ship, the Cheonan, in March.
The Cheonan was patrolling waters west of the Korean peninsula near a maritime border long disputed by North Korea when a sudden explosion tore it in half and sunk it, killing 46 sailors. International investigators concluded that it was beyond doubt a North Korean submarine had fired a torpedo at the ship.
In a Seoul meeting with President Lee Myung-bak, Premier Wen was quoted as condemning "any act that destroys the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula."
South Korea and the United States are urging China to join them in punishing North Korea with action at the United Nations Security Council. China, however, has not directly said it thinks Pyongyang is responsible.
Eric Olander is co-director of the U.S.-based consulting firm China Talking Points. He says Chinese leaders face a difficult balancing act between their deepening relationships with Seoul and Washington, and their need to prevent instability in neighboring North Korea.
"The Chinese are seen as the glue that holds all this together, so whatever resolution they end up passing in New York will have to be broad enough and flexible enough in its language to accommodate all those objectives," said Olander.
Premier Wen and President Lee will be joined this weekend by Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on South Korea's Jeju island for a three-way summit. While the meeting originally was meant to primarily discuss economic issues, North Korea is likely to top the agenda.
Tokyo tightened its own sanctions on Pyongyang this week, restricting the flow of money to North Korea and passing legislation that empowers its Coast Guard to inspect North Korean cargo in international waters.
At the tense inter-Korean border, South Korean businessmen employed at a joint North-South industrial zone began trickling back into the South. Pyongyang says it may block access to the zone, located in the North Korean city of Kaesong.
Returning from Kaesong, South Korean worker Shin Sam-ho said tensions there are noticeable. He says the factory zone feels tense. Instead of their usual cloth caps, he says, the soldiers guarding the zone are wearing battle helmets, in apparent preparation for combat.
South Korean Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo says South Korea will not tolerate interference with its citizens at Kaesong.
She says ensuring the safety of South Korean people is the most important thing in the zone's operation. If North Korea infringes on their safety even a little, she says, the South has no choice but to take more resolute and strict measures.