Rebel Leader Visits China, Bolstering Ties

 Published: 6/20/2011 7:14:05 PM GMT
WSJ Original Cached

BEIJING—China said a top leader from Libya's rebel National Transitional Council will begin a two-day visit on Tuesday, the second publicly announced meeting between Chinese officials and Libya's main rebel group.

Analysts say the trip by Mahmoud Jibril, chairman of the council's executive board, signals deepening ties between anti-Gadhafi forces and China, even as Beijing opposes NATO operations against the country.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced the visit in a statement without offering any details. It later confirmed that Mr. Jibril would meet with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Earlier this month, China said its ambassador to Qatar met in Doha with another rebel leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil. The Foreign Ministry also said Mr. Yang had met his counterpart in the Gadhafi regime, Abdelati al-Obeidi. Analysts described that meeting as part of an effort by China to appear neutral in the conflict even as it shored up relations with rebel leaders in anticipation of Mr. Gadhafi's fall.

China sent envoys this month to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi to assess the impact of the civil war, now in its fourth month, on the country's significant economic interests in the region. China has $18.8 billion invested across 50 large projects in the country.

Noninterference in what it perceives as the internal affairs of other nations is a longstanding tenet of China's foreign policy, though experts say that policy is being challenged by the country's increasingly global economic interests. China opposes NATO airstrikes against Libya, even though it chose not to use its veto power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to block a resolution authorizing the strikes. Phone calls to the Libyan Embassy in Beijing rang unanswered Monday.

China denies it is working to mediate discussions between rebels and the Gadhafi regime, despite stepped-up efforts to meet with ranking representatives from both camps.

"China believes Libya's future should be decided by the Libyan people. China respects the Libyan people's decisions," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters this month.

Write to Brian Spegele at [email protected]

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