China seeks to protect Libya trade ties

AFP, Tuesday 23 Aug 2011

Official hopes 'mutually beneficial' trade will continue despite Libyan rebel suggestions that billions of dollars in prior deals will be reconsidered in light of China's initial refusal to back the uprising

Chinese labourers flee Libya
Chinese workers queue to evacuate Libya earlier this year (Photo: Reuters)

China expressed hopes Tuesday its billions of dollars in trade with oil-rich Libya would continue, as a state-run newspaper called on the West to "clear up its mess" in the war-torn country.

Rebel fighters seeking to end Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year rule have seized control of most of the capital Tripoli, and the whereabouts of the veteran strongman are unknown.

China has ploughed billions of dollars into Libya's rail, oil and telecom sectors, and Beijing acknowledged that its investments had been hit by the revolt that erupted in February during the "Arab Spring".

On Tuesday, it expressed hopes its "mutually beneficial" trade ties with the country would continue, after earlier saying it respected the Libyan people's choice, but hoped stability would soon be restored.

"China's investments in Libya, particularly our oil investments, reflect mutually beneficial economic cooperation between the two countries," said Wen Zhongliang, deputy director of the commerce ministry's foreign trade department.

"We hope to continue to develop economic and trade cooperation with Libya in every aspect," he told reporters at a briefing Tuesday.

Wen's comments came as state media reported that China's largest oil and gas producer has shut down six major projects in several countries including Libya because of political instability.

China is always on the look-out for natural resources around the world to fuel its rapid industrial growth and the unrest in Libya has caused jitters in the world's second-largest economy.

Beijing initially maintained a policy of non-interference in the crisis, but has more recently shifted its position and started taking steps to build contacts with the anti-Gaddafi rebels.

On Tuesday the state-run Global Times newspaper urged the West to help rebuild Libya after the months of violence and a NATO bombing campaign.

"Overthrowing Kadhafi is entertainment for the media, but talk of rebuilding is not," the conservative English-language daily said in an editorial.

"The West has to take responsibility for clearing up its mess in Libya."

The report did not point to a specific country, but Western nations that have thrown diplomatic and financial support behind the Libyan opposition's National Transitional Council include Britain, France and the United States.

The state-run, English-language China Daily, echoing Beijing's earlier call for stability, urged national reconciliation to avoid "chaos" in Libya.

"The relevant parties in Libya must end the war and restore peace as soon as possible," the newspaper said in an editorial.

"This is both for the fundamental interest of all Libyans and conducive to the political stability of North Africa and the Middle East."

In June, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi hosted senior rebel leader Mahmud Jibril in Beijing and recognised Libya's opposition as an "important dialogue partner".

According to the commerce ministry, China currently has 50 large-scale projects worth at least US$18.8 billion in Libya, which reportedly sells around three percent of its total oil output to Beijing.

In an indication of the size of its investments there, China evacuated nearly 36,000 of its nationals from the country in a huge land, sea and air operation after fighting broke out in February.

Libya produced about 1.6 million barrels per day of oil before the rebellion broke out, but output has since slowed to a trickle.

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