Beijing: Beijing has asked Libya's new rulers to guarantee Chinese business interests in the North African country, despite not supporting the military action that helped bring them to power.

China is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council yet to formally recognize the Transitional National Council and repeatedly opposed NATO's use of force in support of the rebels during recent fighting.

In talks in Paris yesterday with Mahmud Jibril, the number two in the transitional authority, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Zhai Jun said he "respected the important role of the TNC in Libya".

He added that China stood "ready to maintain close contacts to promote friendly Chinese-Libyan relations", according to a statement on the website of the Chinese embassy in France.

But he also asked Jibril to guarantee the interests of Chinese companies in Libya amid fears in Beijing that Libya's new Government may give preferential treatment to Western countries that supported the rebels.

China which long helped prop up the Gaddafi regime, has invested billions of dollars in rail, oil and telecoms in Libya, and has commercial and strategic reasons for not wanting Western countries to exert too much influence there.

"China is ready to grant reconstruction aid to Libya... and hopes that the TNC will take into account China's concerns respect its commitments and guarantee the interests of Chinese business interests in Libya," he added.

Zhai represented Beijing as an observer at talks in Paris on Thursday at which the international community agreed to free up billions of dollars' worth of Libyan assets to help the country's new rulers.

Jibril told Zhai the interim authorities would take whatever measures were necessary to protect Chinese citizens and property in Libya, the statement said.

According to a previous Commerce Ministry statement, China has 50 large-scale projects worth at least $18.8 billion in Libya.

A news agency late last month urged Libya's new leaders to protect foreign assets and honour business contracts and projects signed with the Gaddafi Government.

China, a major oil importer, needs to secure stable supplies of the resource to help keep its huge economy moving.

The North African state produced about 1.6 million barrels per day of oil before the rebellion broke out, but output has since slowed to a trickle.

(Agencies)