(Adds background, comments in paragraphs 6-9)
BEIJING, June 13 China said on Friday that it
was watching security developments in Iraq closely after
Islamist fighters captured two more towns in a southward sweep,
and offered the Baghdad government whatever help it can give.
China is the top foreign player in Iraq's oilfields, which
are the largest in the Middle East open to foreign investment,
and has a natural interest in the country's stability.
"China is paying close attention to the recent security
situation in Iraq and we support the Iraqi government's efforts
to maintain domestic security and stability. We hope that Iraq
can return to stability, safety and normality as early as
possible," said Hua Chunying, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.
"For a long time, China has been giving Iraq a large amount
of all sorts of aid and is willing to give whatever help it is
able to," she told a daily news briefing without elaborating.
China had asked Iraq's government to ensure the safety of
Chinese people in the country, Hua said, though she did not say
if any there had been any effect on Beijing's oil interests
State-run China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC),
China's biggest oil and gas producer, has three projects in
Iraq, in the country's south and southeast.
Most of Iraq's oil drilling and export facilities are in the
south, where al Qaeda-inspired groups have little support. They
are not expected to be as vulnerable to insurgents as
infrastructure in northern Iraq.
Analysts, however, said there was little China can do to
immediately bolster the Iraqi government and protect their
interests, despite aid it has offered to Baghdad in the past.
"The situation shows how mixed up the geopolitics of the
Mideast and oil have become," said Daniel Yergin, the vice
chairman of research group IHS and a noted oil historian.
"This time, the U.S. and China and Iran are all on the same
side, trying to preserve the Iraqi state - each of them with
their own interests, and all of them unprepared and caught by
surprise," he said.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Timothy Gardner and
David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie and G