As Muammar Gaddafi’s autocratic stronghold over Libya nears its end, China is at risk of being locked out of the oil-rich country by its prospective new rulers, the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC). According to Middle East watcher James Dorsey, China’s support of Gaddafi as well as its role in obstructing the release of Libya’s frozen assets has jeopardised its future in the country. “China has scored two near fatal own goals in the race for influence and lucrative contracts in oil-rich post-Gathafi Libya,” writes Dorsey.
A document made public over the weekend contains evidence that China was preparing to supply weapons to the Gaddafi regime in July of this year, in violation of United Nations sanctions. Adding fuel to the fire, the head of the TNC, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, has accused China of blocking the release of Libya’s frozen assets. Along with the disclosure of the weapons deal, the accusation indicates that China is at a disadvantage as it competes with Russia, India, South Africa and Brazil to repair strained relations with Libya’s new rulers.
China has yet to officially recognize the TNC, but has recently sought to upgrade its relations with the rebels. These efforts will be made far more difficult by the four-page document found by Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, which shows that state-controlled Chinese arms manufacturers were prepared to sell weapons and ammunition worth at least $200-million to the Mr. Gaddafi. TNC officials said the documents explained the origin of brand new weapons captured on the battlefield by the rebels.
The document reports on meetings in Beijing beginning on July 16 between Gaddafi security officials and representatives of three state-controlled weapons manufacturers – China North Industries Corp. (Norinco), the China National Precision Machinery Import & Export Corp. (CPMIC), and China XinXing Import & Export Corp. The Chinese companies offered to sell their entire stock to Gaddafi’s representatives, and promised to manufacture more supplies if necessary.
In a bid to keep the door open to the rebels and retain a bargaining chip, China agreed last week to the release of $15 billion of the total $170 billion in Libyan assets frozen by the international community. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun, speaking after a meeting in Paris last week with the TNC’s number two, Mahmud Jibril, said that “China is ready to grant reconstruction aid to Libya… and hopes that the TNC will take into account China’s concerns, respect its commitments and guarantee the interests of Chinese business interests in Libya.” China’s trade ministry estimates that China has 50 large-scale projects in Libya worth some $18.8 billion and it evacuated an estimated 36,000 Chinese workers from the country at the beginning of the conflict.
As the rebel TNC edge closer to full control over Libya, they appear to be distancing themselves from those who helped sustain the Gaddafi regime. Although China has made moves to rectify their relationship with the rebels, they are far behind the likes of Russia, and a senior Libyan oil official has warned that countries who are found to have been involved in “corrupt practices” during the Gaddafi era will be punished when post-Gaddafi reconstruction contracts are awarded.
It seems that China, so prominent in Africa in recent times, is at risk of having to take a backseat to a new wave of investment into “some of the world’s most important oil and gas reserves”, and the country’s policy of non-intervention, which has done more harm than good in this case, might well have to be rethought.