BEIJING (Reuters) - China said Tuesday it was concerned about reports that a U.S. aircraft carrier may join a military exercise with South Korea amid a tense standoff with North Korea over the sinking of a warship from the South.
The South Korean corvette the Cheonan was sunk off the peninsula’s west coast in March, killing 46 sailors. South Korea has blamed the North for sinking the Cheonan with a torpedo fired from a submarine, a charge the North denies.
The United States and South Korea have since said they will hold a joint anti-submarine drill.
Some news reports, including one in the Washington Post newspaper, have said Pentagon officials are considering sending an aircraft carrier to take part in the exercise in the Yellow Sea off South Korea’s western coast.
Seoul says an international inquiry showed there was no doubt North Korea sank the Cheonan but Beijing, North Korea’s only real ally and benefactor, has reacted much more cautiously.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said he had seen the reports about the U.S. aircraft carrier joining the drill.
“We’re extremely concerned about these reports and will closely follow developments,” he told a regular news conference.
He indicated China was worried the show of naval force could unsettle the region. “Under current circumstances, all the parties concerned should exercise calm and restraint and do nothing to escalate tensions and harm the interests of countries in this region,” Qin said.
China has resisted calls from Seoul, Washington and Tokyo to join in condemning Pyongyang over the Cheonan sinking, instead saying it needed to assess the competing claims.
Qin repeated that position Tuesday.
Beijing has also been irked by U.S. navy ships engaging in surveillance in waters close to China’s southern coast.
Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Paul Tait