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China meets Libyan rebels, after Russia u-turn on Gaddafi

China said Friday one of its envoys met with a Libyan rebel leader in what could signal Beijing's change of tactics on the conflict after staying on the sidelines and avoiding criticism of Libya's dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The meeting between the head of Libya's rebel council and China's ambassador to Qatar took place in the Qatari capital, Doha. It was Beijing's first known contact with the rebels.

See the AP’s report here.

China said in a statement that Beijing remained hopeful that Libyans themselves could find a political solution to the conflict.

China abstained in the UN Security Council vote in March authorizing the use of force against Libyan forces and has repeatedly criticized the NATO bombing campaign in support of the rebels.

“The meeting shows that China wants to get to know them [rebels] better, but that's still a far cry from recognizing them diplomatically," said He Wenping, director of the Institute of West Asia and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

China has also studiously avoided joining international calls for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to step down, saying that was for the Libyan people to decide.

Russia changes stance

The Chinese move comes as Russia has offered to mediate in negotiations between Gaddafi’s regime and the rebels – a move backed by the United States

Russia, which also abstained in the UNSC vote, and has strongly criticised the West-led military campaign in Libya, has recently reversed its stance on Gaddafi. (See Time's report here, see also The Atlantic's analysis here)

Having opposed regime change, on May 27, President Dmitri Medvedev, signed the G8 summit’s final declaration, which said Gaddafi "has lost all legitimacy" and must give up power. He also agreed to US President Barack Obama's request to mediate in Libya.

See our earlier posts:

'A supremely pragmatic actor' (Jan 2011)

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