Monday, 5 September 2011

China's Major Misstep in Libya

China was quick on the defensive today when Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail found documents that China was offering weapons and ammunition worth at least $200 million to Colonel Moammar Gadhafi in late July which also violated United Nations sanctions.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu sought to deflect attention Monday by saying that while Chinese companies had approached Gadhafi's side, she stressed no transactions were ever made.

However Omar Hariri, chief of the Libyan transitional council's military committee saw the documents and believes they explain brand-new weapons the rebels encountered in the field.

"I'm almost certain that these guns arrived and were used against our people," he said.

The Globe and Mail reporter found the memo in the trash in a neighbourhood known as Bab Akkarah, where several of Gadhafi's most loyal supporters have ostentatious homes.

The memo documents a trip by Gadhafi's security officials made from Tripoli to Beijing on July 16. In the Chinese capital they met officials from three state-owned weapons manufacturers: China North Industries Corp (Norinco), the China National Precision Machinery Import & Export Corp (CPMIC), and China XinXing Import & Export Corp.

The companies not only offered their entire stockpile of weapons and ammunition, but added if they needed more, they would manufacture them. They also added that the weapons should be transferred through a third country to avoid detection.

If that's not proof enough that China was trying to back Gadhafi, I don't know what is.

And what about China's constant refrain of not interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries?

This time it definitely backed the wrong side and the transitional government will bear this in mind when it eventually comes to power.

China likes dealing with autocratic leaders like former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Gadhafi because they have much in common. But Beijing has put its bets on the wrong horses.

As the Arab Spring continues to sustain and spread through the Middle East, Beijing will have to assess things much more carefully with fewer despots on its side.

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