The hopes of Chinese civil engineering firms that they would be able to return to abandoned construction projects in Libya appear to have been dashed for now. Commerce minister Chen Deming says it is too dangerous to return, and that China is seeking compensation from the new government in Tripoli, particularly for housing projects worth more than $10 billion that were completed or close to completion but suffered heavy artillery damage during the fighting.
Before the civil war that overthrew the Gaddafi regime started in February, 2011, some 75 Chinese companies, including 13 large state owned enterprises, were working on $19 billion worth of projects, mainly in oil services, railways, housing construction and telecoms. Evacuating more than 35,000 Chinese nationals from these in March last year was a source of some pride in Beijing. (A similar, though more-low profile and pre-emptive evacuation of Chinese workers in Syria is now underway, with 100 or so being left in the country to secure Chinese engineering projects as far as they can, and so minimize the sort of damage suffered in Libya.)
Chen’s comments about Libya followed the visit of an inspection team from his ministry that arrived in Tripoli earlier this month to assess the extent of the damage, and the prospects for Chinese engineering companies to return. China has, though, resumed its oil imports from Libya, which were interrupted by the civil war. It is expected to ship 140,000 barrels a day from Libya this year.