Despite an attributed commitment to ‘non-interference’ in other countries, China is now well recognised for its pragmatism when it comes to international affairs. Libya is a case in point.
China had substantive investments in Libya and good relations with Muammar Gaddafi’s regime when the rebellion against it began this year.
Nonetheless, amid international outrage at the regime’s attacks on civilians, China stood aside at the UN Security Council vote in February on resolution 1973.
The resolution also imposed an arms embargo on Libya.
NATO adopted resolution 1973 as the mandate for its military intervention in Libya. However China also stridently criticised the NATO air campaign against Gaddafi’s forces.
As the opposition showed itself to be a credible challenge to the regime, Beijing began reaching out.
In early June the regime’s Foreign Minister Abdelati al-Obeidi was welcomed to Beijing. Barely two weeks later, so was the opposition’s top foreign affairs official, Mahmud Jibril.
On June 22, China recognized the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) as "an important dialogue partner."
At the same time, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said:
"China is not seeking any private interest on the Libyan issue. China believes the Libyan issue is essentially Libyan internal issue."
Stressing "the future of Libya should be left to be decided by Libyan people," he urged the two sides in the Libyan conflicts to "truly give peace a chance," saying "this will work for the fundamental interests of the Libyan people."
However, as recently as late July, despite the UN arms embargo, Chinese arms firms were discussing weapons sales worth $200 million to the regime’s beleaguered forces. They include pistols, missiles and rocket launchers.
See The Telegraph’s report here.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry this week confirmed that Gaddafi representatives visited in July in a bid to buy arms, although it insisted that no contracts were signed and no weapons were shipped.
The NTC admits it is not clear whether any of the weapons had been paid for or shipped – something Beijing denies.
But other evidence shows Chinese weapons were either shipped to Gaddafi's forces via Algeria or taken from Algerian stockpiles that China later resupplied.
China and Russia had earlier questioned whether the supplying of weapons to rebels breached the terms of the UN embargo.
Also, China had been holding up the UN’s release to the rebels of frozen Libyan funds held overseas.
The NTC has in recent days accused Beijing of doing so in order to first secure guarantee of the safety of billions of dollars in Chinese investments in Libya.
Regarding the planned weapons sales, Abdel Raham Busim, the NTC military spokesman, said documentation was still being collected and the new government was considering bringing legal action against Beijing, possibly via the UN.