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China, like the UK, talks with a forked tongue to secure business in Libya

China, like the UK, talks with a forked tongue to secure business in Libya

As the Libyan end game drags on, members of the international community are scrambling to make friends with the Transitional National Council. But we shouldn't forget that, all-too-recently, many of these same countries were selling arms to Gaddafi. Even China – which has yet to officially recognise the TNC – is trying to play it safe, holding a meeting with the council on Friday. Of course, it's more about protecting business interests than concern for the Libyan people. By KHADIJA PATEL.

Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail revealed on Saturday that it had discovered papers indicating that China had offered huge stockpiles of weapons to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi as recently as July this year. More spectacularly, these papers allege that South Africa, Algeria, and China may have duped the world, insisting on neutrality, but covertly helping Gaddafi stave off the insurrection against his rule.

The official South African line is, of course, to vehemently deny any such speculation about the reality of its loyalties. South Africa knows well that it will be ignored when the new Libyan government begins to distribute the spoils of its war, but it is China that is left particularly red-faced by the allegation as it rushes to secure its business interests in the North African country.

China remains the only permanent member of the UN Security Council yet to formally recognise the Transitional National Council (TNC) as the official representative of the Libyan people. Beijing has also voiced opposition to Nato’s use of force in support of the rebels, but China knows that it may have been betting on the wrong horse. On Friday Chinese officials met with representatives of the TNC to request a guarantee of Chinese business interests in Libya. In its foreign policy, China is driven principally to protect its business interests. Last year, 3% of Chinese oil imports were from Libya.

Voice of America reports that China is involved in 50 projects in Libya, worth more than $20 billion. The projects range from telecommunications, railway, and oil to the construction of roads, buildings and infrastructure. When the uprising against Gaddafi began, China evacuated more than 35,000 workers from Libya. According to analysts cited by Voice of America, since June Chinese state-owned enterprises have incurred as much as $625 million in losses because of the conflict in Libya. If indeed The Globe and Mail’s sources are correct, it demonstrates that chief among the concerns of the international community in Libya is not the fate of the Libyan people but the fate of its own business interests.

Like China, Great Britain has also revealed a staggering duplicity in its dealings with Gaddafi that is rooted in securing business rights in the country. The Daily Mail on Sunday revealed that it had found compelling evidence of an astounding hypocrisy by the British government in its dealings with Muammar Gaddafi. The British government insisted piously that it had allowed Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Al Megrahi to be freed on compassionate grounds in a decision taken by Scottish Ministers. But papers found strewn on the floors of the abandoned building that once housed the Libyan mission to Great Britain indicate otherwise.

The British government was in fact under severe pressure from Colonel Gaddafi, who threatened to instigate a “holy war” if Megrahi died in his Scottish cell. The papers that survived the exodus of the Libyan mission in London reveal the startling lengths to which the British government went to endear itself to Gaddafi. In the name of securing investment opportunities for British companies like BP, before he became a fugitive from the International Criminal Court, Saif al Islam Gaddafi had then Prime Minister Tony Blair assist him with his PhD thesis. British Special Forces were also offered to train the Khamis Brigade of Gaddafi’s army and British intelligence services forged close links with Gaddafi’s security units. The campaign to win over the heart and oil wells of Gaddafi did not stop with Blair. Gordon Brown wrote warmly to Gaddafi in 2007 expressing hope that the Colonel would be able to meet Prince Andrew when he visited Tripoli. Where British charm may have failed, Nato’s planes have certainly not. Gaddafi is once more the sworn enemy of Great Britain.

The duplicity of the British in dealing with Gaddafi and his ilk in the Middle East and North Africa does not, however, stop with the Labour government. Last Monday The Times revealed that British arms exports to the governments of the Middle East and North Africa grew by a third from February to June this year compared with the same period in 2010, accounting for a substantial £30.5 million. These were weapons used for internal repression, like small-arms ammunition, rifles and sub-machine guns. Just months before the UN announced an embargo on weapon supplies to Libya in February, Britain sent a shipment of ammunition worth £64,000 to Tripoli. Earlier this year a report by a special committee by the House of Commons found that: “Both the present government and its predecessor misjudged the risk that arms approved for export to certain countries in North Africa and the Middle East might be used for internal repression.”

The arms trade is an integral facet of British interests in the Middle East. At Idex, the Middle East’s biggest arms fair held in Abu Dhabi in February, products from almost 100 different British companies jostled for the bulging purses of Arab defence ministries. While lambasting the likes of Gaddafi and the Bahraini government for turning their guns on their own people, the reality is that many of those guns are British. There is a beguiling duplicity in British arms exports to the restive Middle East – much like the reported Chinese offer to come to the Colonel’s aid with a shipment arms. It may not be particularly humanitarian but it is good business. DM

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