A senior Chinese diplomat visited the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi and met members of the opposition, state media said Thursday, as Beijing becomes more deeply engaged in the war-torn nation.
Chen Xiaodong, in charge of North African affairs at the foreign ministry, met with officials of the opposition's National Transitional Council (NTC), the official Xinhua news agency said.
Chen called for a quick political solution to the four-month-long crisis and urged the rebels to hold talks with officials loyal to Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi, it said.
The NTC said it was willing to strengthen ties with China and pledged to protect Chinese people and businesses in areas controlled by the rebels, the report added.
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Up until recently, China had maintained its long-standing policy of non-interference and public neutrality on the conflict in Libya, calling multiple times for a peaceful end to the popular uprising.
But it now appears to be getting more involved in the crisis, and Chinese officials have met several times with members of the NTC.
Beijing last month recognised Libya's opposition as an "important dialogue partner" after talks in the Chinese capital between foreign minister Yang Jiechi and senior rebel leader Mahmud Jibril.
China's commercial interests in Libya include oil, telecoms and rail projects. It was forced to evacuate more than 35,000 workers from the north African state when unrest broke out.
The West has thrown its diplomatic and financial support behind the NTC, which has been recognised by about a dozen countries including Britain, France and the United States.