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Libya unrest tests China's interests in the Middle East

Beijing's successful evacuation of tens of thousands of Chinese from Libya has highlighted China’s growing role in North Africa and the Middle East.

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Chinese nationals evacuated from Libya by a Chinese military transport plane, sit at a terminal in Khartoum airport on March 2.

Reuters

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As tens of thousands of migrant workers from a multitude of countries languish at Libya’s border with Tunisia, trapped in a humanitarian crisis trying to flee mounting violence, Chinese TV viewers are being treated to a very different sight.

Wednesday morning they were shown crowds of laughing and cheering Chinese evacuees aboard a Greek ferry, escorted by a Chinese frigate, safely en route to the Mediterranean island of Crete.

The Chinese government has chartered seven ships, sent 15 civilian flights a day and deployed military planes to bring 32,000 Chinese workers out of Libya over the past week. The unprecedented but apparently well-organized evacuation has highlighted China's growing role in the region, and despite crises spreading across North Africa and the Middle East, Beijing has shown no sign of wanting to lessen that role.

The frigate Xuzhou’s presence – the first time a Chinese military vessel has ventured into the Mediterranean – “sends a strong message of resolve,” says Gabe Collins, cofounder of the China SignPost website.

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