China said it would send a vice minister to a conference in Paris aimed at mapping out Libya's future and stressed again Thursday that the United Nations should play a leading role in rebuilding the country.
Traditionally opposed to humanitarian interventions, China has been less supportive of the one-time rebels battling to oust Moammar Gadhafi than France and other Western countries such as Britain and the United States.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy personally invited China to send a delegate to Thursday's meeting when he made a short stopover in Beijing a week ago. China has appeared reluctant to join Western nations in rebuilding Libya, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said that Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun would attend.
"China supports the efforts by relevant parties in restoring stability and promoting the smooth transition of power in Libya, and is willing to join the international community and play an active role in rebuilding Libya in the future," Ma said in a statement posted late Wednesday on the ministry's website.
China had previously criticized the NATO-led air campaign against Gadhafi's forces and refused to condemn the dictator.
China is a big investor in Libya, with 26 Chinese companies taking on an estimated $20 billion in business. Many of the projects were only half-completed and no estimates have yet been issued as to losses, given the scale of the fighting and widespread looting.
On Thursday, the flagship newspaper of the ruling Communist Party repeated calls for the United Nations to take the lead in post-conflict arrangements in the oil-rich North African country.
"As a permanent member of the Security Council, China has full reason to stress the leading role of the United Nations," said a commentary in the People's Daily.
China is the only UN security Council member that does not recognize the Libyan rebel movement as the country's acting leadership after Russia said it recognized the rebel National Transitional Council.
When asked about recognition at a news conference Thursday, Ma said China respects the choice of the Libyan people and attaches importance to the "role played by the NTC in the settlement of the Libyan issue. .... We hope for the sound and steady progress of our bilateral relations."
The Paris meeting is intended to consider aid for the former rebels and transferring frozen Gadhafi regime assets to the opposition. It is expected to draw top officials from about 60 countries. China's delegate is relatively junior compared to others taking part, including Sarkozy and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The National Transitional Council is expected to present a detailed list of requests, topped by access to the billions of dollars in assets of Gadhafi's government that are frozen around the world. They may also seek short-term loans from the IMF and World Bank, according to U.S. officials. And while they do not want international peacekeepers, the rebels may seek some kind of civilian U.N. police presence, the officials said.
Clinton hopes to announce in Paris that $1.5 billion in Gadhafi regime assets frozen in the United States has been distributed on behalf of the rebels, officials said. That money, about half of the liquid portion of the more than $30 billion in frozen Libyan assets, was freed up last week when the U.N. Security Council eased sanctions against Libya.