BEIJING, June 22 (Reuters) - China's foreign minister lavished praise on Libya's rebel National Transitional Council on Wednesday, calling it an ``important dialogue partner'' which has become a major political force.
BEIJING, June 22 (Reuters) – China’s foreign minister lavished praise on Libya’s rebel National Transitional Council on Wednesday, calling it an “important dialogue partner” which has become a major political force.
China has taken no firm side in the war between Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces and opposition groups and it abstained in March when the U.N. Security Council authorised NATO-led air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces.
But it has been in contact with both sides in the conflict to encourage a political settlement.
“The National Transitional Council’s representation has been growing stronger daily since its establishment, and it has step-by-step become an important domestic political force,” Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told the rebels’ diplomatic chief, Mahmoud Jibril.
“China sees you as an important dialogue partner,” Yang said during a meeting with Jibril, according to a statement on the Foreign Ministry’s website (www.mfa.gov.cn).
China, never very close to Gaddafi, hosted Libya’s Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi this month, but courting the rebels has marked a policy adjustment for China, which generally avoids entangling itself in nations’ domestic affairs.
China has said its recent meetings with Libyan government and rebel representatives are part of an effort to encourage a ceasefire and a negotiated end to the war.
“The crisis in Libya is continuing and the people of Libya are suffering from the hardship and chaos of war; China is worried about this,” Yang said.
“We hope the two parties in conflict in Libya can attach importance to the country and the people’s interests, and earnestly consider the international community’s relevant resolution plans, quickly cease hostilities, and resolve the Libyan crisis through political channels,” he added.
Jibril told Yang that the National Transitional Council admired China’s just stance on the Libyan crisis, and promised to adopt measures in its territory to protect Chinese citizens and investments, according to the Chinese ministry.
China did not use its veto power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council in March to block the authorisation of the NATO-led air strikes.
But it quickly condemned the strikes and has urged a ceasefire and compromise between the government and rebels.
“Yang Jiechi has expressed himself very consistently, and China’s stance has not changed. He has not rejected Gaddafi,” said Yin Gang, an expert on Arab affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.
“But Libya does not have a government that can effectively maintain control. If you don’t have contact, you can’t be said to have diplomacy,” he said.
About half of China’s crude oil imports last year came from the Middle East and North Africa, where Chinese companies have a big presence. Beijing mobilised navy ships and civil aircraft to help tens of thousands of Chinese workers flee Libya this year.