Libyan rebel leader visits Beijing

A top Libyan rebel leader will visit Beijing today as the National Transitional Council (NTC) seeks to strike up relations with key global players.

The talks with Chinese officials are likely to revolve around China’s role as a mediator to end the crisis and Beijing’s concerns over its economic interests in the war-torn country.

In a short statement, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that the “chairman of the executive board of Libya’s National Transitional Council, Mahmoud Jibril, will be in China on Tuesday and Wednesday.”

No further details of the trip or agenda were announced.

The trip follows China’s first confirmed contact with the Libyan rebels last month when a Chinese diplomat met in Qatar with Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the rebel’s de facto political leader.

Earlier this month, Muammar Gaddafi’s Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi visited Beijing for a three-day trip.

China has called for an immediate ceasefire in Libya and is backing diplomatic endeavors to defuse tensions.

Xu Weizhong, a scholar in African studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times that Chinese officials are expressing an increasing willingness to help end the ongoing conflict.

“A peaceful solution to Libya’s crisis is in Beijing’s interest. China could work as a mediator and advocate dialogue between the Libyan government and the NTC,” Xu said.

He Wenping, an expert in African studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times Monday that instead of representing a policy shift, meetings between Chinese officials and NTC representatives reinforce Beijing’s belief that the future of Libya should be decided by its people.

“Beijing will not take sides. It’s taking a more active role in efforts to solve the Libyan crisis by meeting representatives from both sides,” He said.

He also predicted that the protection of Chinese interests in Libya would be a major topic during the talks.

Around half of China’s crude oil imports last year came from the Middle East and North Africa, according to Reuters. Libya is not a major oil exporter to China and mainly sells to European countries.

However, a Reuters report in April, citing an unnamed source, said that China would buy the first oil cargo from Libyan rebels via trading house Vitol.

Meanwhile, European nations have been concerned about how quickly Libya can resume its usual level of oil exports since the civil war has greatly slashed its oil production capability.

China had a big presence in Libya before the war with 50 large-scale projects under constructions by Chinese companies in the country at a total value of $18.8 billion, according to Yao Jian, spokesman of the Ministry of Commerce.

After the conflict erupted in Libya, military transport planes and chartered boats were dispatched to evacuate over 30,000 Chinese citizens working there, mostly on construction sites and in the oil industry.

Though there is no official estimation of the full economic losses, the amount was projected at $20 billion by many experts and observers given the small insurance coverage for Chinese investments in Libya.

According to a report by China Economic Herald, only 5.68 percent of the losses of 13 State-owned enterprises were covered by insurance.

Xu warned that Chinese companies should be cautious when doing business in Africa, given the political uncertainties. 

“It doesn’t mean that Chinese companies should stop investing in the region. But they should learn from the Libyan crisis that it could be very costly if they do not have any risk management awareness,” Xu said.

According to Reuters, Gaddafi’s forces and rebels exchanged heavy fire near the western city of Zlitan on Friday as the rebels pushed into the government-dominated area close to the east of the capital Tripoli.

Separately, a NATO bomb flattened a two-story house and killed two children and seven adults in the capital on Sunday. NATO admitted Monday that a coalition bomb accidentally hit a residential neighborhood, which had resulted in the civilian deaths.

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