BEIJING - China's state news agency warned on Friday against rushing to implicate Russia in the downing of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine, but said those responsible must be brought to justice for the"intolerable terrorist attack".
World leaders demanded an international investigation after the airliner was downed with 298 people on board in a tragedy that could mark a pivotal moment in the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War. There were no survivors.
Two US officials said Washington strongly suspected the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was downed by a sophisticated surface-to-air missile fired by Ukrainian separatists backed by Moscow.
The official Xinhua news agency said in an English-language commentary that officials from the United States, Australia and other Western countries had jumped to conclusions in pointing their fingers at the rebels in eastern Ukraine and for blaming Russia for the escalating violence.
"The accusation was apparently rash when the officials acknowledged they did not know for the time being who is responsible for the attack, while condemning Russia's military intervention," Xinhua said.
The news agency said the top priority at the moment was to co-operate to "find out the real culprits, if any". "If the plane turned out to have been shot down by a missile, the perpetrators should be brought to justice despite their motives and excuses, as it was an intolerable terrorist attack," Xinhua said.
State media do not represent Chinese policy, but are indicative of government thinking. Commentaries issued in English are typically directed at a foreign audience.
China's Foreign Ministry earlier expressed shock and offered its condolences to the families of those on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in a statement posted to its website. In a later statement, it confirmed that a Hong Kong resident was on board.
China's civil aviation authority has ordered all Chinese airlines to reroute their flights away from eastern Ukraine following the crash, Xinhua said in a separate report.