China deepens engagement with Libyan rebels


A Chinese diplomat met with leaders of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) at their base in Benghazi, state media said today, building deeper relationships with rebels seeking to oust Muammar Gaddafi.

The visit by Chen Xiaodong, China’s foreign ministry chief for North African affairs, was the second official meeting between China and Libyan opposition leaders in less than a month and comes as rebels advanced on Gaddafi’s stronghold in Tripoli yesterday.

Chen told the deputy head of the NTC Ali Essawi that China considered the faction “an important dialogue partner,” echoing comments made by senior Chinese officials on rebel diplomatic chief Mahmoud Jibril’s visit to Beijing in late June.

Chen is the most senior official yet to hold talks with the NTC in Libya, although a Chinese diplomat based in Egypt visited the Libyan rebels in Benghazi for the first time in early June.

China, never very close to Gaddafi, also hosted Libya’s Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi in early June. But Beijing’s courting of the rebels has marked something of a practical policy adjustment for China, which generally avoids entangling itself in nations’ domestic affairs.

Chen said China was “deeply concerned” about the five-month-old civil war and attached “great importance to the NTC’s role in solving the crisis”, official news agency Xinhua reported.

The combatants should begin substantial talks on ceasing hostilities and make a positive response to the international community’s mediation proposal, he added.

Reports that Gaddafi was seeking a deal under which he would step down have come amid pressure from advancing opposition forces, sanctions, and a NATO bombing campaign.

His government has denied any such negotiations are underway, and NATO’s chief has said he had no confirmation that Gaddafi was looking for a deal to relinquish power.

China was among the emerging powers that abstained in March when the United Nations Security Council authorised NATO-led air strikes to stop Gaddafi’s forces from threatening civilians. China could have used its veto power as a permanent member.

But it also condemned the strikes, and has repeatedly called for a ceasefire and political compromise.