Why Is Libyan Prime Minister And Chinese Foreign Minister Discussing Activation Of 18 Agreements At This Time? – OpEd


As part of efforts to encourage the return of economic activity in Libya, Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, discussed with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi the initiation of procedures for the Chinese embassy to resume operations in the capital, Tripoli. The meeting also emphasized the need for the revival of political and economic cooperation between the two countries, acknowledging their longstanding historical relations spanning over 60 years.

Over the past decades, their collaboration across various sectors has deepened continuously. A comprehensive strategic partnership or cooperative relationship was established between China and eight Arab countries in the region, including Libya. The Arab nations have become China’s largest supplier of crude oil and its seventh-largest trading partner. China relies on the Arab region to fulfill its increasing demand for oil at competitive prices and aims to safeguard its expanding economic interests there. This entails bolstering ties with oil-exporting nations and forging alliances with regional powers. China is also striving for a lasting presence in the Middle East through various means, such as the “Belt and Road” initiative launched in 2013 and the white paper on Chinese-Arab relations released by the Chinese government in January 2016. Additionally, China has made significant inroads in the security realm, engaging in cooperation, military arms deals, exercises, and joint naval maneuvers in the Mediterranean. Various factors influence China’s stance on Arab issues, particularly Libya, including energy security, trade and investment interests, and its aspiration for regional hegemony.

To advance these objectives, China is poised to activate the 18 agreements signed between the two countries. This includes facilitating the return of Chinese companies to complete projects in Libya, participating in the country’s reconstruction efforts, and exploring opportunities for prisoner exchanges. Chinese prisoners will be repatriated to serve their sentences in China, while Libyan prisoners will return to complete their terms in Libya.

Libyan-Chinese Relations

Since the onset of political turmoil in Libya in mid-February 2011, China has maintained a cautious stance. Notably, China refrained from exercising its veto power and abstained from voting on the Security Council resolution authorizing NATO-led air strikes in March 2011. Subsequently, China recognized the legitimacy of the opposition National Transitional Council. During this period, China viewed the expansion of international intervention, such as imposing a no-fly zone and limited air strikes, as a violation of the Security Council resolution.

Beijing prioritized safeguarding its significant economic interests in Libya, as the Gaddafi regime had facilitated investments by Chinese companies in various African nations. Despite efforts to engage with Libyan revolutionaries to protect its economic interests, China’s influence in post-revolution reconstruction projects and oil field development was limited. China has sought to strengthen its diplomatic and commercial ties with Libya. For instance, in May 2018, the Chinese state oil company PetroChina signed a contract with the Libyan National Oil Corporation to support increased oil production. In July 2018, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Foreign Ministers of the Government of National Accord and China, laying the groundwork for Libya’s participation in the Belt and Road Initiative. Moreover, China intensified discussions with Fayez al-Sarraj in September 2018 to expand Chinese investments in Libya, as highlighted at the Munich Security Conference in February 2019.

Following the fall of the Gaddafi regime, China’s engagement with Libya has primarily focused on economic penetration, without delving into security matters. China has demonstrated a nuanced understanding of local dynamics and adapted its approach to capitalize on emerging opportunities. The mutual support and cooperation between China and Libya, rooted in diplomatic relations, have bolstered political trust, fostered exchanges, and enhanced cooperation across various sectors, elevating bilateral relations and yielding mutual benefits for both nations.

Prof. Miral Sabry AlAshry

Prof. Miral Sabry AlAshry is Co-lead for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) at the Centre for Freedom of the Media, the Department of Journalism Studies at the University of Sheffield.

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