China says Libyan rebel council 'important'
China acknowledged Thursday the "significant position" of Libya's rebel transitional council, but stopped short of offering formal recognition to its governing authority.
As world leaders gathered in Paris for a conference on Libya's future to be chaired by France and Britain, China's foreign ministry said it would maintain close contact with the rebels.
"China respects the choice made by the Libyan people and attaches importance to the significant position and role played by the NTC (National Transition Council) in the resolution of the Libyan issue," said foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu.
"We are willing to maintain close contact with it and push forward the smooth progress of China-Libyan relations."
Beijing, the only permanent member of the UN Security Council that does not officially recognise the NTC, has sent Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhai Jun as an "observer" to the conference, Ma said.
China, which long supported the Kadhafi regime, opposed NATO air strikes and initially maintained a policy of non-interference and public neutrality in the Libya conflict.
But it later began opening contacts with the rebels and said it recognised them as an "important dialogue partner".
Thursday's comments came as Russia recognised the rebels who ousted its old ally Moamer Kadhafi as the legitimate rulers of Libya.
China has previously asked the United Nations to lead post-war reconstruction in Libya and has said on several occasions that it was willing to help with efforts to return stability to Libya.
On Thursday, a commentary run by the state Xinhua news agency ahead of the Paris meet called on Western powers "not to take unfair advantage of reconstruction and business opportunities" in Libya.
Around 60 nations are expected to be represented at the Friends of Libya conference, to be co-chaired by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron.
US Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have all said they will attend, while most other participants said they would send their foreign ministers.
China has invested billions of dollars in rail, oil and telecoms in Libya, and has commercial and strategic reasons for not wanting Western countries to exert too much influence there.
"China firmly supports the international endeavour of restoring stability to Libya and ensuring a smooth power transition and is willing to work with the international community to play a positive role in its reconstruction," Ma said.
He added that China hopes "to see a further expansion of our existing economic and trade cooperation" with Libya.
© 2011 AFP