SEOGWIPO, South Korea – SEOGWIPO, South Korea (AP) — The leaders of South Korea, China and Japan met Sunday on the last day of a summit expected to focus on how to respond to the sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on North Korea.
China was facing increased pressure to rebuke the reclusive state, its longtime ally. But so far, Beijing has showed no signs publicly of joining South Korea and Japan in punishing Pyongyang.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has said he hoped the summit would help achieve peace. Officials said Saturday's discussions focused on trade issues and the ship sinking was on Sunday's agenda for the meeting on the South Korean resort island of Jeju.
As the main backer of reclusive North Korea, China has long been reluctant to back harsh measures against the state that shares its border. Beijing's statements on the sinking so far have stressed caution and objectivity in the investigation, while also showing sensitivity to South Korean anger at the attack and at its own reluctance to endorse the investigation results or criticize Pyongyang.
But senior U.S. officials speaking after recent strategic talks in Beijing have predicted China will gradually endorse the view that North Korea should be held accountable. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.
An international investigation concluded earlier this month that a North Korean torpedo struck and sank the Cheonan in March, killing 46 sailors in the South's worst military loss since the Korean War.
North Korea has repeatedly denied responsibility, and the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Saturday the ship investigation was "a hideous charade" carried out by Seoul and its impartial allies America, Australia and Britain.
Last week, South Korea began taking a series of punitive measures and pledged to haul Pyongyang before the U.N. Security Council. The steps include slashing trade, resuming anti-North Korean propaganda broadcasts across the border and launching large-scale naval exercises with the United States off the western coast.
North Korea quickly responded by declaring it was cutting ties with South Korea and threatening to blow up any propaganda loudspeakers South Korea installs, warning the South's moves are pushing the peninsula closer to war.
"These anti-North Korean confrontations are an open declaration of war against us and an extraordinarily criminal act that pushes inter-Korean relations into a state of war," North Korean Maj. Gen. Pak Rim Su said Friday, according to broadcaster APTN. He spoke at a rare news conference of the National Defense Commission, which is headed by leader Kim Jong Il.
China wields veto power as a permanent Security Council member, so its support would be key to any bid to condemn or sanction North Korea in the United Nations.
Before the two-day summit began Saturday, Wen offered condolences to the families of the dead sailors at a meeting with South Korean Prime Minister Chung Un-chan, the prime minister's office said.
"China is a responsible nation which insists on justice and is seriously considering the findings of the multinational investigation," Wen said, according to Chung's spokesman Kim Chang-young. "China has maintained consistent views on the stability of peace on the Korean peninsula and opposes acts that destroy it," he quoted Wen as saying.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has pledged to take the North to the U.N. Security Council and Japan has backed the move. Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's government on Friday instituted new sanctions against North Korea.
Chinese leaders were pressed hard on the issue during talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other officials in Beijing earlier this week.
North Korea has carried out a series of attacks on the South since the Korean War ended in a truce in 1953. South Korea has never retaliated militarily. China fought with North Korea in the war, while the U.S. aided the South.
Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Sangwon Yoon in Seoul contributed to this report.