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South Korea dials back tough talk over Cheonan sinking

One day after China refused to take a stand against North Korea over the March 26 sinking of South Korea's naval ship, Cheonan, South Korea appears to be moderating its rhetoric against the North over the sinking.

Protesters shout slogans and hold placards reading 'Punish North Korea' during a small rally in Seoul, Monday. The South Korean government has dialed back its rhetoric, and temporarily stopped propaganda balloons and loudspeaker broadcasts over the border.

Wally Santana/AP

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South Korea tempered its tough talk Monday with signs of a desire to cool down tensions with North Korea before they boil over into fresh outbreaks of violence with unpredictable consequences.

The relatively low-key response comes just one day after China refused to take a stand against North Korea over the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean naval vessel.

First, South Korea's Defense Ministry said it was putting off a propaganda campaign of balloon drops and mega-loudspeaker broadcasts into North Korea that the North had said it would answer by firing into the speakers. Then South Korea's Unification Ministry indicated the government was carefully modulating its responses to the Cheonan sinking in order to test the North Korean response.

“We should decide policy considering various considerations,” was the highly ambivalent reply of the vice unification minister, Um Jong-sik, when asked why the government had decided to delay a propaganda blitz that was certain to invite outrage from the North.

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