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The flag of the Libyan transitional government flies at the Libyan Embassy in Beijing on Aug. 23, 2011. China has urged the continuation of 'mutually beneficial' trade ties with oil-rich Libya. (PETER PARKS/PETER PARKS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
The flag of the Libyan transitional government flies at the Libyan Embassy in Beijing on Aug. 23, 2011. China has urged the continuation of 'mutually beneficial' trade ties with oil-rich Libya. (PETER PARKS/PETER PARKS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Global Exchange

Why China may regret its support for Gadhafi Add to ...

As the civil war in Libya accelerates to a seemingly inevitable end, Chinese officials may well be worrying they have placed their bets with the wrong side.

On Monday, an official at Libyan oil company AGOCO, allied with the rebels, told news agencies they “may have some political issues” in future dealings with China as they prepare for a return to production.

China, which maintains an official policy of non-interference in uprisings around the world, originally condemned NATO air strikes against Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, though it abstained from the UN Security Council vote, and urged the two sides to compromise.



The country’s state-censored media generally focuses on the chaos and violence caused by revolution rather than the people power behind it, which critics say reflects fears that such revolutionary zeal could eventually come to China’s own authoritarian regime.

But with Mr. Gadhafi in hiding and the rebels mostly in control, Chinese officials are now taking a more conciliatory approach. There were some 35,000 Chinese workers in the country at the time of the uprising and Libya is China’s 11th largest oil supplier, but there is more at stake: China, which has sponsored an increasing number of development loans and projects in Africa in exchange for access to natural resources, also risks losing out on major redevelopment contracts.

“China is now encountering the complications of its non-interference policy,” said Patrick Chovanec, associate professor in Beijing’s Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management. “China has a presence in a lot of countries that are seen as potentially politically unstable and yet it has this policy of supporting that status quo…When things are uncertain, it puts China in a very uncomfortable position.”

As a result, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman this week found himself in the unusual position of pledging that China would respect “the choice of the Libyan people,” while a commerce ministry official today called for a return to stability.

“We hope after a return to stability in Libya, Libya will continue to protect the interests and rights of Chinese investors and we hope to continue investment and economic cooperation with Libya in the future,” a conciliatory Wen Zhongliang, deputy head of the commerce ministry’s trade department, told a news conference.

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