China gives its support to Libya's rebels

Despite opposing Nato-led assistance to Libyan rebels, China signals its support of the National Transitional Council in hopes of securing its economic interests.

BEIJING // China yesterday signalled it was swinging its weight behind the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) in Libya, as Beijing looks to shore up its economic interests in the North African country.

Calling for a "stable transition of power" as Colonel Muammar Qaddafi's regime was crumbling, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, said China "respects the choice of the Libyan people" and was in contact with the NTC.

"We hope that the future new government will adopt effective measures, draw together the forces of different factions, and restore social order as quickly as possible," Mr Ma said.

While China has forged links with the rebels in recent months, its opposition to the Nato-led assistance of them has left it on the defensive as it looks to secure energy supplies and win reconstruction contracts in a post-Qaddafi Libya.

Ben Simpfendorfer, managing director of Silk Road Associates, an economic consultancy specialising in China-Arab world ties, said Beijing's opposition to intervention in favour of the rebels "certainly complicates China's position".

"China was unusually receptive to the NTC, even so far as saying it was an important political force in June, but what it didn't do was provide the support the United States and Europe did," he said.

Reuters this week quoted the Libyan rebel oil firm AGOCO information manager Abdeljalil Mayouf as saying there could be "political issues" that would hinder ties with Chinese, Russian and Brazilian interests.

China has developed strong energy ties with Libya, to the extent that it has become its third-largest oil consumer, importing 11 per cent of the North African country's peak daily production of 1.5 million barrels.

Chinese interests reportedly invested more than US$18 billion (Dh66.1bn) in Libya under Col Qaddafi, even though the relationship between Beijing and Tripoli was sometimes strained.

In 2009, the then Libyan foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, who fled to the United Kingdom in March this year, said there was "something akin to a Chinese invasion of the African continent".

"This is something that brings to mind the effects that colonialism had on the African continent," he said.

In March, China abstained on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorised military intervention in Libya, and it later criticised Nato's aerial bombing campaign in support of the rebels.

However, in June this year, Mahmoud Jibril, chairman of the NTC's executive board, visited Beijing and the Chinese authorities acknowledged the rebels as "important dialogue partner".

China this week urged UN, not just Western, involvement in managing a post-Qaddafi Libya, and has called on Libya to protect Chinese investments in the country. Yesterday a spokesman for the Chinese ministry of commerce said Chinese interests wanted to play a major role in rebuilding Libya.

Mr Simpfendorfer said China's success in securing contracts would however depend upon how stable Libya was under any new government.

"The less stable Libya is, the more successful China may be, because Chinese firms have a greater appetite for risk," he said.

Wang Suolao, a specialist on China-Arab relations in Peking University's School of International Studies, said China would likely be able to develop strong ties with any new Libyan government, despite its anti-intervention stance.

"Both sides have the intention to make close economic contacts and political contacts," he said.

"Although China didn't give any substantial aid to support the National Transitional Council, I think in the post-Qaddafi era the council cannot ignore China's economic power."

 

dbardsley@thenational.ae

Published: August 25, 2011 04:00 AM

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