Chinese 'Attacked' in Libya

China's media limit reporting on the Libyan crisis to concerns over social chaos and financial costs.

An image grab from Libyan state television purportedly shows supporters of Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli, Feb. 21, 2011.

Chinese nationals in Libya have been attacked and injured in recent days, according to the official Chinese media, which have focused largely on attempts to evacuate them from the turmoil engulfing the North African state.

"Thousands of Chinese nationals in Libya were robbed, and a dozen of them were seriously wounded recently," the official Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday.

There are around 30,000 Chinese people working on the railways and oilfields in Libya, where the government of Moammar Gadhafi was waging a bloody battle this week to hang on to power as the revolt against his 41-year rule reached the capital.

While the bloodshed prompted widespread condemnation from foreign governments including the United States and Britain, Chinese officials have made no direct mention of Gadhafi.

Instead, "since the eruption of turmoil in Libya on Feb. 16, the safety of the Chinese citizens in Libya is one of [the government's] major concerns," Xinhua said.

It said Beijing had sent passenger jets and ships to the Libyan port of Benghazi to pick up some of the Chinese stranded there.

Chinese diplomats in Egypt had also traveled to the border crossing of Sallum to receive Chinese nationals fleeing Libya, it added.

Details unknown

An official who answered the phone at the Chinese Embassy in Tripoli said the embassy did not yet have details of how many Chinese nationals had died or were injured.

"It is pretty difficult to get in touch with anyone by cell phone right now," the official said.

"They are sending passenger jets and ships to do everything they can to get any Chinese people back home."

Asked if those being evacuated would have to pay for the service, the official replied: "That is not important. What is important is the safety of those people."

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao ordered the rescue attempt on Tuesday, as the foreign ministry expressed "concern" at events in Libya.

"China is extremely concerned about the developments in Libya and hopes Libya will quickly restore social stability and normality," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told a regular news briefing on Tuesday.

Ma's omission of Gadhafi in his remarks is typical of China's reluctance to criticize authoritarian governments or to "interfere in the internal affairs" of other countries.

Comparison to Tiananmen

In Beijing, police cordoned off the area around the Libyan embassy, where a top diplomat resigned earlier this week in protest at Gadhafi's actions.

Former second secretary Hussein Sadiq al Musrati instead joined about 20 students and protesters in front of the Libyan Embassy in Beijing, reportedly likening Gadhafi to Hitler.

In a defiant speech on Monday, Gadhafi drew parallels with the 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing.

"When Tiananmen Square happened, tanks were sent in to deal with them," he said. "It's not a joke ... The unity of China was more important than those people on Tiananmen Square."

Derek Mi-Chang Yuen, lecturer in international relations at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said he believes a civil war is now likely in Libya.

"The United Nations is unlikely to take any measures," Yuen said. "The Libyan ... situation hasn't resulted in a huge flow of refugees across the border."

"There are differences of opinion within the United Nations, so it would be very hard for a resolution to get passed at all," he said.

Limited reporting

Official media have stuck to reporting the heavy economic costs and the loss of life linked to recent protests and uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere in the region.

"The volatility ... has dealt a heavy blow to those nations' economies, social order, security, and quality of life," the Xinhua news agency said in a commentary on Wednesday.

"Political volatility has critically damaged the economies of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya ... unnerved international speculators, and made oil and gold prices rocket," it said.

"With the financial turmoil and social order in chaos, ordinary people may easily lose their jobs and wealth, and face difficulties in their daily life without protection of their personal security," the article said.

Chinese authorities, concerned over domestic security, have sought to limit public support for the recent wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East with a careful campaign aimed at limiting reporting and online debate.

Government figures have recorded tens of thousands of "mass incidents" across the country every year, often sparked by land disputes, forced evictions, or allegations of corruption against local officials.

China's ruling Communist Party recently set up an office for maintaining stability, sending out guidelines and directives to every bureaucratic and law enforcement agency down to village and neighborhood committee level, experts say.

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.