Countries that supported the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi's regime are likely to get first crack at post-war Libyan oil production, while those that sat on the sidelines are at risk of losing out.
"We don't have a problem with Western countries like the Italians, French and U.K. companies. But we may have some political issues with Russia, China andBrazil," Abdeljalil Mayouf, information manager at Libyan rebel oil firm AGOCO, told Reuters.
Talk like that has many Western oil companies licking their chops. Meanwhile, officials from China and Russia are foundering for ways to deal with the emerging Libyan government, the National Transitional Council (NTC).
Although Libyan oil production before the uprising comprised just 2% of global output, it is prized because it is of the light sweet crude variety – it contains less sulfur than most other oil and is thus cheaper to refine.
The deputy head of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce's trade department, Wen Zhongliang, tried to stay positive when asked about Mayouf's statement last week.
"We hope that after a return to stability in Libya, Libya will continue to protect the interests and rights of Chinese investors and we hope to continue investment and economic cooperation with Libya," Wen told a news conference.
But other Chinese observers were indignant.
"I can say in four words: They would not dare; they would not dare change any contracts," Yin Gang, an expert on the Arab world at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told Reuters.
Although China was getting only about 3% of its oil from Libya, the Asian giant's rapidly growing economy has given it a ravenous appetite for energy – including oil.
China abstained from the United Nations vote that authorized force to protect civilians during the uprising, and along with Russia and Brazil opposed sanctions against the Gadhafi regime.