China scores fatal own goals in competition for post-Qaddafi Libya

Chi­na has scored two near fatal own goals in the race for influ­ence and lucra­tive con­tracts in oil-rich post-Qaddafi Libya.

A doc­u­ment dis­closed this week­end tes­ti­fies to Chi­na prepar­ing to sup­ply as late as July weapons in vio­la­tion of Unit­ed Nations sanc­tions to Libyan leader Moam­mar Qaddafi’s forces who were locked into bat­tle with NATO-backed rebel forces. Adding fuel to the fire, the head of Libya’s rebel Tran­si­tion Nation­al Coun­cil (TNC), Mustafa Abdel Jalil, has accused Chi­na of block­ing the release of his country’s frozen assets.

The dis­clo­sure and accu­sa­tion puts Chi­na at a dis­ad­van­tage as it com­petes with Rus­sia, India, South Africa and Brazil in repair­ing strained rela­tions with Libya’s new rulers. The five nations, mem­bers of the UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil, refrained from sup­port­ing a res­o­lu­tion in March that autho­rized the impo­si­tion of a no-fly zone in Libya and formed the basis for NATO sup­port for the anti-Qaddafi rebels. The five nations have repeat­ed­ly denounced NATO bomb­ings of Qaddafi tar­gets over the past six months.

In con­trast to Chi­na, Rus­sia scram­bled in the past week to turn the page with the rebels and pro­tect bil­lions of dol­lars in arms, ener­gy and infra­struc­ture deals con­clud­ed when Mr. Qaddafi was still in pow­er. Rus­sia sent a high-lev­el envoy to Thursday’s Friends of Libya con­fer­ence in Paris where NATO mem­bers and Qatar pledged sup­port for the rebels and moved to unfreeze Libyan assets. Rus­sia also rec­og­nized the TNC as Libya’s legal author­i­ty, sig­nalling that it no longer was seek­ing to nego­ti­ate a com­pro­mise solu­tion reject­ed by the rebels with the oust­ed and now fugi­tive Libyan leader. To stress that it means busi­ness, Rus­sia has also invit­ed the rebels to meet in Moscow to dis­cuss Russ­ian sup­port for post-Qaddafi Libya.

The Russ­ian moves con­trast stark­ly with China’s posi­tion, which increas­ing­ly appears in Libyan eyes to be duplic­i­tous and tar­nish­es its image across the Mid­dle East and North Africa whose pop­u­la­tions are close­ly watch­ing events as they unfold in Libya and share the aspi­ra­tions of those who suc­ceed­ed in oust­ing the third auto­crat­ic leader this year.

Chi­na in recent months refused to rec­og­nize the TNC and has yet to do so, but sought to upgrade its rela­tions with the rebels in a bid to hedge its bets. That effort has been cast in a far more unfavourable light by the four-page Libyan doc­u­ment dis­closed by Cana­di­an news­pa­per The Globe and Mail that shows that state-con­trolled Chi­nese arms man­u­fac­tur­ers were pre­pared to sell weapons and ammu­ni­tion worth at least $200-mil­lion to the Mr. Qaddafi in late July. TNC offi­cials said the doc­u­ments explained the ori­gin of brand new weapons cap­tured on the bat­tle­field by the rebels from Qaddafi forces.

The doc­u­ment reports on meet­ings in Bei­jing start­ing July 16 between Qaddafi 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 their entire stock­piles for sale, and promised to man­u­fac­ture more sup­plies if nec­es­sary. “The com­pa­nies sug­gest that they make the con­tracts with either Alge­ria or South Africa, because those coun­tries pre­vi­ous­ly worked with Chi­na,” the memo says. Alge­ria last week gave refuge to one of Mr. Qaddafi’s wives as well as two of his sons and a daugh­ter.

The Chi­nese dilem­ma result­ing from the dis­clo­sure of its sup­port of Mr. Qaddafi and its fail­ure to seek to repair rela­tions with the TNC in a way that demon­strates that it is break­ing with past pol­i­cy towards Libya is cer­tain to have been noticed in Syr­ia and Yemen where mass anti-gov­ern­ment protests have suc­ceed­ed in mak­ing the oust­ing of their embat­tled lead­ers a ques­tion of when rather than if. It also is like­ly to revive debate about China’s role in auto­crat­ic coun­tries in the Mid­dle East and Africa where Bei­jing has been secur­ing access to resources while turn­ing a blind eye to the nature of the regimes they are get­ting into bed with.

The stakes for both Rus­sia and Chi­na in the Mid­dle East and North Africa are high despite an appar­ent con­sen­sus among Asian ana­lysts that China’s com­mer­cial inter­ests in Libya are rel­a­tive­ly small. Nei­ther coun­try can ignore a geo-strate­gic region that is home to some of the world’s most impor­tant oil and gas reserves which have giv­en it not only polit­i­cal but also finan­cial clout as well as key ports and whose pop­u­la­tions sym­pa­thize with restive Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions across the globe.

In the com­pe­ti­tion between Rus­sia and Chi­na, Libya’s sig­nif­i­cance goes beyond its bor­ders. Rus­sia unlike Chi­na has as an ener­gy pro­duc­er a vest­ed inter­est in high oil prices and in main­tain­ing mar­ket share. By con­trast, Chi­na, as a major importer, prefers low­er prices.

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 in total $170 bil­lion in Libyan assets frozen by the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty. In response, TNC head Jalil acknowl­edged that Chi­na while not vot­ing for the no-fly zone had refrained from exer­cis­ing its right of veto in the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil.

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 esti­mat­ed that Chi­na has 50 large-scale projects in Libya worth some $18.8 bil­lion. Chi­na evac­u­at­ed an esti­mat­ed 36,000 Chi­nese work­ers from the coun­try at the begin­ning of the con­flict.

A senior Libyan oil offi­cial cau­tioned last month that Chi­na along­side Rus­sia and Brazil may be at a dis­ad­van­tage to NATO coun­tries in the com­pe­ti­tion for post-Qaddafi recon­struc­tion con­tracts. TNC offi­cials have said that they would hon­our Qaddafi-era con­tracts with a caveat: pro­vid­ed they are not found to have involved cor­rupt prac­tices. Few con­tracts were con­clud­ed in Mr. Qaddafi’s Libya with­out his fam­i­ly or asso­ciates hav­ing had mate­r­i­al ben­e­fit.

Libya is but the most imme­di­ate bat­tle­ground on which the world’s major pow­ers com­pete for influ­ence in a key region where polit­i­cal reform and escape from the yoke of auto­crat­ic rule is going to be the dom­i­nant theme for years to come and will dra­mat­i­cal­ly redraft its polit­i­cal land­scape. If the Unit­ed States and Europe have a strate­gic advan­tage in Libya, Rus­sia unlike Chi­na is work­ing hard and furi­ous to nar­row the gap.

The bat­tle­field is like­ly to shift in the not too dis­tant future to Syr­ia. Both Rus­sia and Chi­na oppose US and Euro­pean sanc­tions against the embat­tled regime of Pres­i­dent Bashar al Assad, call­ing on both sides to refrain from vio­lence and enter into a dia­logue. But if Libya is any­thing to go by, Rus­sia is quick­er on its feet to read the writ­ing on the wall. China’s fail­ure to do so will be at its own per­il.

About The Author:
James M. Dorsey is a senior fel­low at the S. Rajarat­nam School of Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies at Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Uni­ver­si­ty in Sin­ga­pore and the author of the blog, The Tur­bu­lent World of Mid­dle East Soc­cer.

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low GlobalDefence.net on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →