BEIJING - China is ready to receive a visit by envoys of the Libyan opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) "in the near future", a senior diplomat told Chinese media on Thursday.
But Chen Xiaodong, director of the West Asian and North African Affairs Department at the Foreign Ministry, did not mention a specific date for the visit.
Beijing confirmed, for the first time, contact with Libya's opposition on June 2 when Zhang Zhiliang, ambassador to Qatar, met NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil in the Qatari capital, Doha.
On Monday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Egypt-based Chinese diplomat Li Lianhe had gone to Benghazi, the opposition's headquarters in eastern Libya, where he met Abdul Jalil, examined the humanitarian situation and inspected property of Chinese businesses there.
On Tuesday, Abdelati Obeidi, special envoy of the Libyan government, started his three-day visit to China. Obeidi met Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Wednesday.
China is willing to stay in touch with Libyan parties, including the NTC, supports a proposal by African countries to solve the crisis and expects both sides to consider and respond to it, Chen said.
"As China is deeply concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya, we believe the current situation is untenable and it's time to come up with a solution," Chen said.
He noted that China hopes both sides in Libya will take a more flexible and pragmatic attitude to quickly start talks and resolve the crisis through dialogue and negotiation.
China called on the two sides to quickly implement a cease-fire to prevent any worsening of the humanitarian situation and to pave the way for a political settlement, Chen said.
He called on both sides in Libya to consider the basic interests of the country and people. A political process should be started as soon as possible to safeguard regional peace and stability, he said.
China maintains that Libya's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity should be respected, he added.
"We oppose any actions which go beyond the authorization of the resolution approved by the United Nations Security Council."
Asked if Muammar Gadhafi should leave Libya, Chen stressed that it depends on the Libyan people, and their choice should be respected.
Since the crisis began, China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has been maintaining contact with various international organizations to facilitate a political solution, he said,
At Thursday's news conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei reiterated China's support for the African Union's (AU) proposal to solve the Libyan crisis. The main points of the proposal include an immediate cease-fire, talks between the two sides and the suspension of NATO strikes.
He Wenping, chief of African studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it's reasonable and necessary for the African Union to take the lead in solving the crisis.
The possible visit of NTC representatives to China will give more weight to a peaceful solution, He said.
"If no one there is talking about a peaceful solution, the situation will only get worse."
China abstained in March when the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize a no-fly zone over Libya. But it quickly condemned the subsequent expansion of NATO action and has repeatedly urged a cease-fire and a political solution.
Yin Gang, a research fellow at the West Asian and African Studies Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the visit of NTC representatives will give China an opportunity to play a role in promoting a political solution.
"China has been, and will keep on, persuading both sides to go to the negotiating table," said Yin, noting that "the willingness to talk" is the key to a solution.
"The consequences might be catastrophic if the two sides don't contact each other and negotiate," Yin said.