China on Thursday said envoys from Libya's main opposition group will visit the country soon, further boosting its engagement in Libya's civil war and dealing another setback to dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Chen Xiaodong, director general of the Foreign Ministry's West Asian and North African Affairs Department, said China was "ready to receive a visit" from representatives of the National Transitional Council "in the near future," according to state-run Xinhua News Agency. He did not give a date for the visit.
China stayed on the sidelines for the first few months after the revolt against Gadhafi's government erupted in mid-February, but it has recently stepped up efforts to persuade the two sides to seek a settlement.
Last week, Chinese diplomats in Qatar met with the leader of the transitional council. That was followed Wednesday by a meeting in China between Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and his Libyan counterpart, Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi, who was apparently dispatched to Beijing to reassert the Libyan government's influence.
"We believe what is most pressing now is that relevant parties agree to a cease-fire as soon as possible so as to avert an even greater humanitarian disaster, and resolve the Libyan crisis through dialogue and negotiation and other political means," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing Thursday.
Hong said China maintains that Libya's sovereignty and independence and "the independent choice of the Libyan people" should be respected.
"We will keep in touch with the relevant parties in Libya and make concerted efforts with the international community to push for a political resolution to the Libya crisis," he said.
The rebel group has been appealing for diplomatic recognition and financial support with mixed results. Although a few countries have recognized the council as the legitimate government of Libya, the United States and several other key nations have not.
Beijing has repeatedly criticized NATO's bombing campaign against Gadhafi's forces and has pointedly avoided joining international calls for Gadhafi to step down, saying that is for the Libyan people to decide. But its decision to engage the rebels has been a diplomatic setback for Gadhafi.
The revolt against the dictator 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.
Associated Press writer Alexa Olesen contributed to this report from Beijing.