(Adds detail on evacuations)
By Sui-Lee Wee and Sabrina Mao
BEIJING, Feb 22 (Reuters) - China on Tuesday expressed concern about unrest in Libya but held back from joining other nations in condemning Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi for the bloody unrest in the oil-exporting nation.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu’s comments were the first from Beijing on the crisis in Libya, but he omitted mentioning Gaddafi in his remarks, reflecting China’s traditional reluctance to criticise authoritarian governments in the developing world.
“China is extremely concerned about the developments in Libya and hopes Libya will quickly restore social stability and normality,” Ma said.
The main evening news on state television led with a statement that President Hu Jintao had ordered “all-out efforts to secure the life and property of Chinese nationals in Libya”. Beijing was sending chartered aircraft and ships to the region to prepare for evacuations, it added.
Gaddafi’s government is waging a bloody battle to hang on to power as the revolt against his 41-year rule reached the capital, prompting widespread condemnation from foreign governments including the United States and Britain. .
But Beijing’s reaction to the upheaval in the Middle East has been more cautious than other countries.
China’s Communist Party government is wary of any foreign upheavals that could reflect badly on its own authoritarian controls and it has long been suspicious of what it sees as Western-led efforts to topple governments in other countries.
The U.N. Security Council, of which China is a member, is prepared to meet later in the day to discuss the crisis, diplomats said.
Ma said China has asked Libya to investigate the incidents of looting and arson against some Chinese companies in Libya, an oil-exporting country with which it has close business ties.
In 2010, trade between China and Libya grew to $6.6 billion, a rise of 27 percent compared with 2009. China’s exports to Libya grew by 3 percent, while its imports from Libya grew by 42 percent, reflecting oil purchases.
State news agency Xinhua said a construction site run by Huafeng Construction Co. Ltd. from China’s Zhejiang Province was looted by a group of armed gangsters on Sunday in the eastern city of Agedabia. Nearly 1,000 Chinese workers there were forced from their on-site living quarters and had become homeless.
State media have reported on the unrest in Libya and Chinese Internet sites have allowed searches on Libya, in contrast to the crisis in Egypt.
Censors restricted public comment on Egypt, apparently reflecting worry that criticism of deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime could also turn toward criticism of Beijing.
Hussein Sadiq al Musrati, who was second secretary in the Libyan mission to Beijing before he stepped down four days ago, joined about 20 students and protesters in front of the Libyan Embassy in Beijing on Tuesday, CNN reported.
Calls to the Libyan embassy were unanswered on Tuesday. (Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Simon Rabinovitch; Editing by Sugita Katyal)