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UPDATE: China recognises NTC as Libya's ruling government

Updated On: Sep 13, 2011

China has recognised the National Transitional Council (NTC) as Libya’s ruling authority, as announced by the foreign ministry in Beijing. This makes it the last permanent member of the UN Security Council to do so, amid revelations that Chinese arms makers had spoken to Gaddafi’s representatives about arms sales.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement, “China respects the choice of the Libyan people and attaches great importance to the status and the role of the NTC, and has kept close contact with it.”

The statement also cited an unnamed NTC representative as saying, “Libya welcomes China to engage in the country's reconstruction and jointly push forward the steady and sustained development of bilateral ties.”

This is the latest sign of China’s struggle to deal with the massive upheavals in the Arab world, which has swept away or strained autocratic regimes that have ties with Beijing. It could help ease the NTC’s recent criticism of China, which had significant investments in Libya before the war.

It is not clear if the announcement would pave the way for further release of frozen Libyan funds, a major point of contention between Beijing and the NTC. NTC leaders have recently claimed that China was blocking the release of some of these funds, but Beijing has said it is not opposed to releasing more funds but needed to ensure appropriate regulatory mechanisms were in place before any agreement.

The Chinese have billions of dollars’ worth of investments in Libya, have been critical of NATO bombardment during the war and have not condemned Gaddafi. However, Beijing attempted to secure ties with the NTC as rebel forces increased in political standing and gained control over more territory.

Steve Tsang, professor of contemporary Chinese studies at Nottingham University, said that the Chinese “have taken their time in recognising the rebels,” and people will conclude that China “is much more interested in protecting its own national interests than performing its duties as a leading power in the international scene.”

Chris Zambelis, a researcher at US consultancy Helios Global who focuses on the Middle East, said China wanted to protect its energy interests in Libya even if such interests are not as great as elsewhere. Zambelis elaborated, “Whatever rebel government emerges, China already has a place in the country business-wise. It wouldn't make sense to start shutting it out … We will still see China in Libya.”

The NTC has been slow to establish itself in the capital, and infighting within the NTC has materialized in recent days. Interim NTC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil has called for infighting to end and maintained that former members of Gaddafi’s regime should not be excluded from the new Libya, reiterating that many senior members of Gaddafi’s regime had changed sides and joined the rebels.

Report: Libya's NTC gains Chinese recognition (Guardian, 12 Sep 2011)

Report: China Recognizes Libya's NTC (Wall Street Journal, 12 Sep 2011)

Report: Libya’s new leader calls for reconciliation (Washington Post, 13 Sep 2011)