China will respect the choice of the Libyan people and hopes that the situation there stabilizes quickly, the country’s Foreign Ministry has said today as rebel forces battle for Tripoli.
The Chinese government may maintain publicly that it doesn’t interfere in other nations’ internal affairs, but it has been careful to hedge its bets over the unfolding civil conflict in Libya. It surprised many, for example, when it announced in June that it would receive envoys from the anti-government Libyan rebels, a shift from its usual position of only engaging with the recognized governments of other states on political issues. This followed the equally surprising move by Beijing to abstain from a UN vote on military action, rather than vetoing it.
As Richard Weitz noted back in April, China didn’t exactly back Resolution 1973. Indeed, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in March that the ‘Chinese side stresses that UN Security Council’s actions should be in line with the organization’s charter and existing international norms, respect Libya’s right for sovereignty, independence, indivisibility and territorial integrity, (and) resolve the existing crisis through dialogue and other peaceful means.’ But its opposition was certainly muted, and no veto came.
Speaking today, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said: ‘(We) hope that the Libyan situation will stabilize at an early date so that people there can live a normal life…China is ready to cooperate with the international community to play a proactive role in the reconstruction of Libya in the future.’
While some of the domestic coverage of other uprisings in the Arab world this year has been muted in China (in part, no doubt, over fears that China could see its own protests demanding change), parts of the Chinese media have been closely following and reporting on the advances of Libya’s rebels.
‘Facing the offensive of the rebels, forces loyal to Gaddafi appeared to have crumbled quickly, and the guard unit responsible for Gaddafi's security had reportedly surrendered to the rebels,’ the official Xinhua News Agency reported. ‘The rapid collapse of Gaddafi's defence came though the embattled leader urged his followers twice on Sunday to pick up arms and fight against the rebels, calling it “the obligation of all Libyans” and “a matter of life or death.”’
The Global Times, though, appeared intent on downplaying the significance of the rebels’ advance into Tripoli. The top story in its world news section, in contrast with almost every major news site in the world, is on a quarrel between Israel and Egypt over border killings.
The People’s Daily similarly virtually ignores the unfolding events in Libya, focusing instead on comments made by visiting US Vice President that the United States won’t default on its debt. At the time of writing, the collapse of Gaddafi’s defences didn’t even warrant a place anywhere on the People’s Daily’s front page.