China calls on relevant parties to exercise restraint in the Middle East

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said worsening of tensions in the Middle East is in no one’s interest and relevant parties should properly resolve conflicts through dialogue. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday (Jan 8) that the situation in the Middle East is sensitive and complex, and called on relevant parties to exercise restraint.

The worsening of tensions in the Middle East is in no one's interest and relevant parties should properly resolve conflicts through dialogue, ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily news briefing in Beijing.

Iran launched missile attacks on US-led forces in Iraq early on Wednesday in retaliation against a US drone strike last Friday (Jan 3) that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), a top investor in Iraqi oil, has pulled about 20 employees from the West Qurna-1 field operated by US major Exxon Mobil amid a jump in regional tensions, a company source familiar with the matter said. The move was made on Sunday following the US drone strike.

"CNPC pulled out its staff from West Qurna on Jan 5, following Exxon's direction as they are the operator, right after the US killing of Soleimani," the Beijing-based source said on Wednesday.

The Chinese state oil firm has kept staff in place at two other Iraqi oil fields, he added.

CNPC declined to comment on the matter. Exxon Mobil did not immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment.

Iraq is the second-largest oil producer in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia, pumping about 4.6 million barrels a day. The deteriorating security situation poses a heightened risk to foreign firms operating in its oil and gas sector.

CNPC has maintained its staff of close to 60 people at the Rumaila oil field, a joint venture with operator BP, as well as a team of about 100 at the CNPC-operated Halfaya field, said the source, who declined to be named as he is not authorised to talk to the media.

"Teams at Rumaila and Halfaya update headquarters on the security situation on a daily basis. For now there's no plan for evacuations," the source added.

China's state-run CNOOC Ltd, which produces at the Maysan oil field in south-east Iraq, has no immediate evacuation plan as the firm has already put in place a "very high" level of security measures due to long-term security concerns, said a CNOOC official.

State-run Korea Gas Corp, which participates in oil and gas development projects in Iraq such as the Zubair oil field and the Mansuiya gas field, is monitoring the situation and has maintained its staff of fewer than 10, a company spokesman said.

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