China said Tuesday that Libya's foreign minister is visiting Beijing just days after Chinese officials announced they had reached out to the rebel forces challenging Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
China appears to be taking small steps to boost its engagement in the Libya conflict after staying on the sidelines for the first few months since the revolt against Gadhafi's government erupted in mid-February.
Beijing has pointedly avoided joining international calls for Gadhafi to step down, saying that is for the Libyan people to decide. It also abstained in the U.N. Security Council vote authorizing the use of force against Libyan government loyalists and has repeatedly criticized the NATO bombing campaign in support of the rebels.
On Friday, Beijing said the head of Libya's rebel council met with China's ambassador to Qatar in the Qatari capital, Doha, in what was the first known contact between the two sides. China's decision to engage the rebels was a diplomatic setback for Gadhafi.
Apparently seeking to reassert the Libyan government's influence, Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi arrived Tuesday in Beijing for a three-day visit.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular briefing that talks with al-Obeidi would focus on the need for a political solution to the Libyan crisis.
He also reiterated China's appeals for an immediate cease-fire and called on all parties to "fully consider the mediation proposals put forward by the international community so as to defuse the tensions as soon as possible."
Asked if China was hoping to act as mediator between the Libyan government and the rebels, Hong sidestepped the question, responding, "China is working along with the international community to resolve the Libyan crisis politically."
The director of the Institute of African Studies at the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing said the Chinese government was testing the waters with the recent flurry of contacts.
"China hopes to get to know the current situation in Libya and the positions of both sides," He Wenping said.
"China would like to play a role as a mediator and not support one side and oppose the other. As to which side China might support in the end, I wouldn't want to make any prediction," she said.
The revolt against Gadhafi followed popular uprisings that overturned the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt. A coalition of rebels has seized control of much of eastern Libya and set up an administration based in Benghazi.
When fighting erupted in Libya, China dispatched military transport planes and arranged chartered boats to evacuate an estimated 30,000 Chinese working there, mostly in the construction and oil industries, comprising one of the largest blocs of foreign laborers.
Hong said in a separate statement Monday that Chinese diplomats based in Egypt had also recently visited Benghazi to observe humanitarian aid efforts there and meet with officials from the rebels' National Transitional Council.
Associated Press researcher Yu Bing contributed to this report.