ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska - China has signaled it could soon join the United States and its allies in blaming North Korea in the sinking of a South Korean warship, senior American officials said Wednesday.

Speaking after strategic talks this week in Beijing, U.S. officials said China indicated it is prepared to hold North Korea accountable for the March 26 torpedo attack and could join in some kind of formal rebuke by the United Nations Security Council.

The move would represent a breakthrough for the White House, because so far China has resisted condemning North Korea for the incident, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

On a visit to South Korea this weekend, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is likely to express regret for the deaths and hint that China will accept the results of an international investigation blaming North Korea, the U.S. officials said.

Wen is also expected to leave open the possibility of backing action against Pyongyang at the Security Council, although it's not clear how far Beijing is prepared to go in rebuking its historic ally.

In Seoul earlier Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the world must respond to the "unacceptable provocation" of the sinking of the warship. Pyongyang, meanwhile, continued to engage in blistering rhetoric against Seoul and Washington.

Clinton told reporters after talks with South Korean leaders that "the international community has a responsibility and a duty to respond" to the sinking, which "requires a strong but measured response." She spoke at a joint news conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan.

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Clinton spent hours discussing the sinking with top Chinese leaders during strategic and economic talks in Beijing on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, before spending a few hours in Seoul yesterday.

"I believe that the Chinese understand the seriousness of this issue and are willing to listen to the concerns expressed by both South Korea and the United States," she said in South Korea.