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China Warns U.S. Against Escalating Actions on Yemen’s Houthis

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China is cautioning the United States against escalating its military operations targeting Yemen’s Houthi rebels, emphasizing the potential threat to its economic and diplomatic interests in the Red Sea region. The ongoing conflict, marked by the Houthis’ efforts to disrupt maritime traffic in critical Middle East waterways, has prompted China to call for restraint and de-escalation.

Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mao Ning, addressed the issue on Friday, expressing China’s concern over the escalating tension in the Red Sea. Emphasizing the importance of maintaining safety and stability in the region, Ning urged relevant parties to play a constructive and responsible role in preventing further escalation.

The conflict in Yemen, where Houthi rebels have been engaged in a prolonged campaign, poses a specific threat to China’s economic activities. As a nation heavily reliant on the Suez Canal and Bab-el-Mandeb Strait for transporting goods to European markets, China is closely monitoring developments that could impact its trade routes.

Unlike the United States, China opted not to join Operation Prosperity Guardian, a U.S.-led coalition aimed at policing the Red Sea, which commenced last month. The growing military exchanges between the U.S. and the Houthi rebels, coupled with China’s diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, create a complex situation for Beijing.

In the spring of the previous year, China brokered a surprising normalization of relations between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, a significant diplomatic achievement. This deal was partly based on Iran’s commitment to curtail military support to the Houthi militia and reduce Houthi attacks on Saudi and international targets.

However, recent developments indicate a shift in Iran’s stance, with Tehran expressing support for the Houthis’ Red Sea operations. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s elite military unit, has reportedly embedded personnel among the Houthi forces, raising concerns about the evolving dynamics of the conflict.

China’s strategic moves in brokering deals between regional powers were initially viewed as an attempt to rival or potentially surpass the U.S. as the principal power broker in the Middle East. The Red Sea conflict, however, is emerging as a challenge to Beijing’s diplomatic strategy in the region.

A critical question arises concerning China’s ability to influence Iran and Saudi Arabia to adhere to the terms of its normalization deal. Recent months have shown that Iran is more committed to supporting the Houthi rebels as a proxy force than complying with diplomatic agreements reached with China.

China now faces a delicate situation, balancing its reliance on key waterways for trade with its positioning as a challenger to U.S. influence in the region. While Beijing needs the Red Sea to remain open for its economic interests, it has refrained from supporting operations that align with U.S. interests.

The recent seizure of a vessel off the coast of Somalia carrying Iranian-manufactured missile components for the Houthis has further escalated tensions. The U.S. Defense Department’s Central Command announced the interdiction, marking the first seizure of such weaponry since the Houthi attacks on merchant ships began in November 2023.

As the conflict unfolds, China’s role in mitigating tensions and influencing key players in the region remains a crucial aspect to watch. The Biden administration has sought China’s assistance in restraining Tehran and its proxies, but China’s response and actions in the coming weeks will shape the geopolitical landscape in the Red Sea region.

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