China to tighten arms sales after Libya revelation; relations with Gaddafi not entirely strong

Updated On: Sep 07, 2011

China said Tuesday it will tighten arms export controls after a Canadian newspaper revealed a meeting in July between Chinese arms manufacturers and representatives of Muammar Gaddafi.

Spokeswoman for Chinese Foreign Ministry Jiang Yu reiterated that no contracts were signed and no weapons were sold, although the meetings did result in the issuane of invoices listing weapons prices.

China said the meetings were acts of individuals and took place without the knowledge of the Chinese government, and that it will investigate whether arms sales protocols were violated. Jiang also said China will continue to comply with a U.N. embargo on arms sales to Libya passed in February.

Jiang added the government would “further strengthen management over military exports.”

China acknowledged Monday that Gaddafi’s representatives had been in Beijing seeking advanced weaponry to counter the rebel threat. Documents found in Tripoli by a journalist with a Canadian newspaper showed that Chinese arms manufacturers offered to sell about $200 million worth of arms.

While Libyan rebels say that Chinese companies shipped arms to Gaddafi through Algeria in violation of a U.N. embargo, there is no evidence that the Chinese government itself played a role in the meetings between Chinese arms makers and Gaddafi’s representatives.

China has opened contacts with the rebel-led government, but has not officially recognised it as the legitimate government of Libya. Jiang said China will recognise the government “when the time is ripe”.

Report: China says to tighten control over weapons dealers (Associated Press, 6 September 2011)

Report: China to Review Arms Sale Policy After Libya Embarrassment (Voice of America, 6 September 2011)

Report: China Says It Will Tighten Arms Sales Procedures (New York Times, 6 September 2011)

While relations between China and Gaddafi-led Libya appeared to be warm throughout Gaddafi’s reign, it now appears to have been more fragile than many assume.

China’s crude oil imports from Libya have more than doubled since 2008. But China’s state-owned oil companies appeared unable to obtain major stakes in Libya’s crude-oil assets due to lack of political goodwill with Gaddafi’s regime.

However, differences between China and Gaddafi persisted. In 2006, for example, Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif Gaddafi, visited Taiwan. Libya then hosted Taiwan’s former President, Chen Shui-bian, straining Chinese-Libyan ties.

In 2009, the Libyan foreign minister employed anti-imperialist rhetoric to describe China’s economic involvement in Africa as a “Chinese invasion of the African continent”. Again in 2009, Libya prevented the sale of a Canadian oil company, Verenex Energy Incorporated, to state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation.

China appeared to support Gaddafi as the civil war intensified, but is now struggling to court the rebel forces now in power. China’s policy seems to involve supporting a lukewarm ally and upholding its principle of non-intervention rather than supporting an opposition movement that it fears could spill over beyond the Arab world.

Analysis: China and Gadhafi Not as Friendly as Some Assume (Wall Street Journal, 6 September 2011)

Related Article