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China Sending Envoy to 'Friends of Libya' Meeting in Paris

China is participating Thursday’s “Friends of Libya” meeting in Paris, although Beijing still has not recognized the National Transitional Council as the country’s legitimate government.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu confirmed that Beijing is sending an envoy to Paris for the 60-nation summit in to discuss the future of Libya.

Ma said Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun will represent the Chinese government at the meeting, as an observer.

At the gathering, the National Transitional Council is expected to outline an 18-month road map for creating a new constitution and holding elections.

The Chinese envoy ranks lower, diplomatically, than some of the meeting’s other participants, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

On Thursday, Russia recognized the National Transitional Council as Libya's "ruling authority." The announcement leaves China as the only one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council that has not officially recognized the NTC as Libya’s new leaders.

When asked if Beijing is worried that its lack of recognition of the NTC will pose a problem for Chinese participation in future reconstruction efforts in Libya, Ma said only that his government sees the NTC as having played a “significant” role in settling the Libya crisis.

He says China has maintained contacts with the NTC and will continue the contacts so that bilateral relations move forward in what he described as “a sound manner.”

When asked why China has not yet recognized the NTC, Ma did not answer directly. But he several times expressed respect for the choice of the Libyan people, implying that Beijing considers Libya’s political transition as still ongoing.

A commentary in the English language China Daily calls Libya “a bad example of Western intervention in developing countries” and accuses NATO and its western supporters for unfairly and unscrupulously prolonging the conflict.

Another commentary in China’s top official newspaper, the People’s Daily, urges the international community to let the United Nations lead post-war reconstruction in Libya. It also says Beijing will seek to defend its economic interests in Libya after Moammar Gadhafi’s ouster.

Earlier this year, China and Russia abstained when the U.N. Security Council voted for a resolution authorizing the NATO-led air strikes to protect Libyan civilians. But the China later called for a ceasefire, saying the NATO action exceeded its U.N. mandate.

State-run media say China is involved in $20 billion worth of projects in Libya, including road, building and infrastructure construction. China is the world’s second-largest oil importer and last year received about three percent of its imported crude from Libya.