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China Brushes Off Clinton's Call For Action Against North Korea

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BEIJING — China responded coolly Tuesday to U.S. calls for it to support international action against North Korea over the sinking of a South Korean warship, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called stability on the Korean peninsula a "shared responsibility" of Beijing and Washington.

Wrapping up two days of intense strategic and economic talks in Beijing, Clinton appealed to China for its backing by noting that "no one is more concerned about peace and stability in this region than the Chinese." She also said that after "very productive and detailed" conversations, she believed the Chinese "understand the gravity of this situation."

"We know this is a shared responsibility and in the days ahead we will work with the international community and our Chinese colleagues to fashion an effective, appropriate response," Clinton said at a signing ceremony for several unrelated agreements reached during the course of the broader talks.

But her Chinese counterpart in the discussions, State Counselor Dai Bingguo, barely mentioned the matter in his remarks at the ceremony. China, North Korea's main ally, has remained neutral, and Dai merely repeated his government's standard line on the matter.

"The two sides believe that ensuring peace and stability in Northeast Asia and the Korean Peninsula is critical," he said. "Under current circumstances, relevant parties should calmly and appropriately handle the issue and avoid escalation of the situation." He did not elaborate.

At a news conference later with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, her U.S. co-chair in the overall dialogue, Clinton made clear that the U.S. expects China's cooperation. But she could not say if any progress had been made in persuading the Chinese to back action against the North.

"We expect to be working together with China in responding to North Korea's provocative action and promoting stability in the region," Clinton told reporters at the news conference, which was not attended by Chinese officials.

"I think it is absolutely clear that China not only values but is very committed to regional stability and it shares with us the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula and a period of careful consideration in order to determine the best way forward in dealing with North Korea," she said.

A team of international investigators concluded last week that a torpedo from a North Korean submarine tore apart the South Korean warship Cheonan. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has said he will take the matter to the U.N. Security Council and has taken other punitive steps against the North.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Clinton have both said Washington fully supports the measures South Korea is taking, including referring the matter to the Security Council, which could impose new sanctions on the North or condemn the ship sinking.

Beijing's support for U.N. action is essential, as it holds a permanent veto-wielding seat on the Security Council and can block any moves it might take.

North Korea has flatly denied involvement and threatened to retaliate against any steps taken against it.

Meanwhile, tensions between the Koreas soared Tuesday, with South Korea resuming propaganda broadcasts into the North after a six-year halt. Pyongyang said its 1.2 million-member military was bracing for war.

Clinton said she would be visiting South Korea on Wednesday to consult with Lee about the response to the incident and said Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao would be making a similar trip Friday. She said the U.S. and China would compare notes on those meetings.