Libya’s relations with China will suffer if there is confirmation of a report that Chinese state companies offered to sell Muammar Qaddafi $200 million worth of arms during the rebellion, the North African nation’s new leaders said.
“If indeed the Chinese government agreed to sell arms to Qaddafi only a month ago, definitely it will affect our relationship with China,” the National Transitional Council’s finance minister, Ali Al Tarhouni, told Al Jazeera television yesterday.
Tarhouni was speaking in response to a story by Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper, whose reporter in Tripoli said he found Qaddafi-government documents suggesting Chinese companies offered to sell to surface-to-air missiles designed to bring down aircraft, in addition to other weapons and munitions.
The Arabic-language documents, copies of which were posted on the newspaper’s website on Sept. 4, include details of a trip to Beijing by Libyan security officials to discuss the possible purchase of weapons on July 16, when Libya was under a United Nations arms embargo.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Jiang Yu denied yesterday that state-owned companies offered to sell arms to Qaddafi, who is in hiding after rebel forces took control of the capital, Tripoli, late last month.
“The Qaddafi regime sent people to China to make contact with certain individuals of relevant Chinese companies in July without the knowledge of government departments,” she said in Beijing. “Chinese companies have not signed any military trade contracts with Libya, let alone sold arms to Libya.”
China today said it will tighten control over exports of arms.
“This was an act of individuals, of relevant companies and this contact did not lead to any actual act of export,” Jiang said. “China will continue to strictly implement the UN resolution and further strengthen management of military exports.”
Vehicles of army troops loyal to Qaddafi have crossed the border into Niger this week. The Libyan army vehicles entered the Niger city of Agadez late yesterday and were headed to the capital, Niamey, Salley Kolle, a police officer, said today by phone. Niger’s Nomade FM radio station reported yesterday that Qaddafi’s intelligence chief, Mansour Daw, was in the convoy.
‘Don’t Want China’
The Libya documents relating to China were found by a Globe and Mail reporter in the trash in Tripoli’s Bab Akkarah neighborhood, where Qaddafi loyalists had lavish homes, the newspaper said. The material suggested the arms would be delivered through third countries such as South Africa or Algeria. The documents didn’t confirm whether any military assistance had been delivered.
Popular sentiment among many Libyan rebels is against China already because of a perception that the nation objected to the UN Security Council resolutions in March that authorized the arms embargo, sanctions and an air campaign.
“We don’t want China, because China is not going with us,” said a Misrata hotel executive, Mahmoud Al Malbrook, in an interview. “China, it deals all the time with Qaddafi.”
The image of China as harmful to the Libyan rebel cause is widespread in areas under the control of the National Transitional Council. China hasn’t yet recognized the NTC, while about 60 states have.
In late May, Abdeljalil Mayuf, spokesman for Arabian Gulf Oil Co., at the time the largest oil company in rebel hands, said in an interview in Benghazi that China would suffer a penalty for a perceived lack of support for the UN resolutions.
“There must be a reordering for India, China, Brazil,” said Mayuf. “I am sure that some of these contracts will be canceled. Russia and China have personal control with sons of Qaddafi, they gambled on the wrong horse.”
Chinese oil companies are among 44 businesses that have contracts for oil exploration in concessions agreed on with Libya since 2007. The NTC has repeatedly said it will honor all of Libya’s contracts.
Abdul Hakim Moktar, a rebel fighter based in Misrata, said the opposition wants to use the postwar period to reward friendly nations and punish unfriendly ones. He singled out Qatar, the U.S., Britain and France as “friendly” states and characterized China and Russia as “unfriendly.”
“The countries who helped us, we will not forget them,” he said in an interview. “In this war, many people love us and we will not forget them. China did not help us.”
Yet even in Misrata, where sentiment against China seems strong, trade with the country continues. A consignment of several thousand plastic independence flags arrived in the city last month to be given out for planned street celebrations when the war officially ends. The flags were made in China.