China has officially recognised the National Transitional Council as Libya’s ruling authority, the foreign ministry in Beijing has announced. It is the last permanent member of the United Nations security council to do so. China’s relations with the NTC were strained last week when it emerged Chinese arms firms had talked to Muammar Gaddafi’s representatives about weapons sales. The statement, released late on Monday – a public holiday in China – added that Beijing respected the choice of the Libyan people. Spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said China hoped all signed treaties and deals would remain in force and be “implemented seriously”. It cited an unnamed NTC representative as saying: “Libya welcomes China to engage in the country’s reconstruction and jointly push forward the steady and sustained development of bilateral ties”. China had already held talks with the NTC and said it valued its “important role”, but had held off full recognition. “They have taken their time in recognising the rebels,” said Steve Tsang, professor of contemporary Chinese studies at Nottingham University. “I would have thought they really should have done this much earlier. I suspect the timing was simply determined by the practical issues of negotiations with the National Transitional Council and that now they have something they think will be satisfactory from their perspective.” But he added China’s behaviour would affect how it was seen by the rest of the world. “You will have quite a lot of people concluding China is much more interested in protecting its own national interests than performing its duties as a leading power in the international scene. As [one of the] P5 [permanent members of the UN national security council] there are certain expectations and moral responsibilities … The way the post-Gaddafi situation has been handled, [people] have not been giving China a particularly high mark,” he said. Chris Zambelis, a researcher at US consultancy Helios Global who focuses on the Middle East, added: “They saw the writing on the wall … Some countries are still holding out, but one by one they are lining up [behind the NTC].” He said while China’s energy interests in Libya were not as great as those elsewhere, it wanted to protect them. An official with a rebel oil firm suggested last month it might freeze out countries that had not supported it. There was embarrassment when it emerged that Chinese state-owned arms firms met Gaddafi’s representatives in July – despite a UN weapons embargo. Beijing’s foreign ministry said the government did not know of the meetings and that no contracts had been signed or weapons delivered. But Zambelis added: “Whatever rebel government emerges, China already has a place in the country business-wise. It wouldn’t make sense to start shutting it out … We will still see China in Libya.” China surprised some by supporting the UN arms embargo and abstaining on the vote on Nato airstrikes – though it later condemned the bombing. Its investments in Libya are thought to be worth about $20bn (£13bn).
China has been reluctant to recognize the NTC since it would go against its “non-interference” policy. The changing regional dynamics and winds of change have made China grudgingly change its stance. Like Russia, China had business interests in Libya that it wanted to protect, hence its timidness in supporting the Libyan uprising against Qaddafi.