BEIJING - China on Monday night officially recognized Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) as the ruling authority of the country, the Foreign Ministry announced in a statement.
Nearly 70 countries have recognized the NTC as Libya's government.
"China respects the choice of the Libyan people," Ma Zhaoxu, spokesman for the ministry, said in a statement.
"We highly value the important role played by the NTC and have kept in close contact with it," he said, adding that China had already informed the NTC of the decision.
Ma expressed the wish that Sino-Libyan relations will enjoy a smooth transition and that contracts signed previously between the two countries will remain valid and be implemented.
The statement cited an official from the NTC as saying that the organization and the Libyan people "felt extremely delighted" over the Chinese recognition, which had been "long anticipated".
The NTC attaches great importance to China's role and will abide by all bilateral contracts, the source said. It will also stick to the one-China policy, and welcomes China to participate in the reconstruction of Libya, the Libyan official said.
Analysts and experts welcomed China's decision.
"Now that the NTC has taken control of most of Libya and is actually governing the country, it is natural for China to recognize it," said Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies.
He explained that the main reason for China's long-waited acknowledgement is the lack of a formal announcement by the NTC establishing an interim government.
Interim Prime Minister Mahmud Jibril said on Sunday in Tripoli that the NTC will announce the establishment of an interim government within a week to 10 days, the pan-Arab al-Jazeera TV channel reported.
Jibril told a news conference that all military units which had been fighting forces loyal to the fallen leader Muammar Gadhafi will be brought under the umbrella of the upcoming interim government.
The interim government will include representatives from different regions of Libya, including areas that are still under the control of Gadhafi supporters, Jibril said.
Zhang Xiaodong, a researcher with the Institute of Western Asia and Africa Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said all obstacles had been cleared for China to recognize the NTC.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has followed its own diplomatic principles in making such a decision, he said.
"Unlike Western countries, China does not have ideological preferences, and respects the choice of the people in Libya," Zhang said.
"The preconditions for China to recognize a government is that ... the government is capable of maintaining stability in the country and is recognized by its domestic political forces and the international community," Zhang said.
He also said that China's recognition of the NTC indicates that both sides have reached consensus on major issues.
According to Xinhua, China has 50 projects in Libya worth $18.8 billion. These projects have been suspended due to the conflict.
Qu said that the NTC's attitude toward Chinese assets in Libya is also the reason behind China's decision.
On whether the new Libyan government will give preferential treatment to Western countries in terms of oil production, Qu said that even under Gadhafi's rule China had played a much smaller role in the field than Western countries, such as France and Italy.
He said that China's role in Libya was focused on infrastructure and telecoms, which the new government badly need after the war.
China has been in direct contact with the NTC forces for the past several months.
On June 2, China's Ambassador to Qatar, Zhang Zhiliang, met NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil in Doha. Four days later, Li Lianhe, a Chinese diplomat in Egypt, went to Benghazi, rebel headquarters, to meet Jalil and inspected the humanitarian situation and property of Chinese businesses.
From June 21 to June 22, Jibril visited Beijing. During his meeting with deputy head of the NTC, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi recognized the NTC as "an important partner in dialogue".
China has all along said it respected the choices of the Libyan people.
When a conference was held in Paris to discuss the reconstruction of post-Gadhafi Libya on Sept 1, China sent Vice-Foreign Minister Zhai Jun to represent the Chinese government as an observer.
In talks with Jibril, Zhai said that he "respected the important role of the NTC in Libya". Jibril promised to honor China's business contracts in the country and requested China's help in rebuilding Libya.