By Sui-Lee Wee
BEIJING (Reuters) - China will recognize Libya's National Transitional Council as the legitimate government "when conditions are ripe," the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday, without spelling out what those conditions would be.
China has not joined Western powers in formally recognizing the NTC as the legitimate authority in Libya, but has acknowledged its "important role" after Gaddafi's ousting as the rebels swept into Tripoli last month.
The new Libyan leadership has been grappling with how to handle ties with Beijing after uncovering evidence that Muammar Gaddafi bought arms this year from traders in China and in Europe. China has said that Chinese arms dealers had negotiated without authority from the government, and stressed that it had exported no arms.
When asked whether the NTC had pressed Beijing for an explanation on the evidence, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu responded indirectly, saying China had been in close contact with the NTC and supports its role in Libya.
"Our lines of communication with the NTC are smooth," she told a regular news briefing. "I would like to point out that the instability in Libya is temporary, but that China-Libyan friendship is long-term.
"We value the National Transitional Council's status and role and are willing to stay in close contact with them to promote the steady development of bilateral relations," she said.
Asked why China has not recognized the NTC as Libya's legitimate government, Jiang said that it will come when "conditions are ripe." She didn't elaborate.
Jiang added that China would step up controls over arms exports after Chinese arms firms held talks with representatives of Gaddafi's beleaguered forces in July over weapons sales.
China says it exported no arms to Libya and that it was adhering to a U.N. resolution banning their sale to the North African country.
"I would like to emphasize that China will strictly implement the U.N. resolution and further strengthen management of military exports," Jiang said.
"I think that competent authorities of military trade will take this matter seriously in accordance with regulations," she added. "This contact did not lead to the actual act of exports."
The Globe and Mail and the New York Times reported that documents found in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, indicated that Chinese companies offered to sell rocket launchers, anti-tank missiles and other arms with a total of some $200 million to Gaddafi's forces, despite a U.N. ban on such sales.
The revelations have added tension to China's already delicate relations with Libyan rebel forces that have ousted Gaddafi. Libyan rebels have said China had obstructed the release of some of Libya's frozen assets.
China did not use its U.N. Security Council veto power in March to block a resolution that authorized the NATO bombing campaign against Gaddafi's forces, but it condemned the expanding strikes and repeatedly urged compromise between his government and the rebels.
Libya's interim council has promised rewards for those who took a leading role in backing the revolt against Gaddafi, and that has raised concerns China could be at a disadvantage.
China is the world's second-biggest oil consumer and last year obtained 3 percent of its imported crude from Libya.
"The National Transitional Council has said it will respect China's core interests and keep its promise of effectively protecting the interests of Chinese businesses," Jiang said.
"We hope Libya will honour China's existing trade contracts with the country and take all measures to protect the safety of China's personnel and assets in Libya."
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, Editing by Brian Rhoads)