BEIJING – China said Tuesday that Libya's foreign minister was 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 in recent days 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 that the head of Libya's rebel council and China's ambassador to Qatar had met in the Qatari capital, Doha, in what was the first known contact between the two sides.
This week, China is hosting Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi from Tuesday through Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a one-sentence statement.
It wasn't immediately clear whether China hoped to play a mediator role or was contemplating support for the rebel side.
The director of the Institute of African Studies at the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing said that the Chinese government was first 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 have seized control of much of eastern Libya and set up an administration based in Benghazi.
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 in Beijing contributed to this report.