China urged Iran to pressure the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen to end their attacks against Red Sea commercial shipping, Iranian sources told Reuters in a January 25 report. Beijing also warned that Chinese-Iranian commerce could suffer if Houthi attacks continue, a potentially potent threat since China remains Iran’s largest trading partner. On January 26, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin affirmed that China is “deeply concerned over the recent rapid escalation of tensions in the Red Sea.” He also said that the United Nations Security Council did not “authorize the use of force” against Yemen — an apparent criticism of recent U.S. and allied strikes against the Houthis.
“Beijing appears to be learning the hard way that its one-sided economic leverage over Tehran may not be enough to rein in Tehran’s destabilizing tendencies. Should Iran and the Houthis ignore China’s pleas, the net effect will be to magnify the disconnect between China’s rhetoric as a regional power player and its actual influence.” — Craig Singleton, FDD Senior Fellow
“The United States should not be ceding the Middle East to China as if Beijing — an ally of Iran — will serve as an honest security broker to serve American interests over the years to come. China’s leverage over the United States should be going down, not up.” — Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor
U.S., Chinese Diplomats Meet to Discuss Threats to Red Sea Shipping
On January 26 and 27, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is scheduled to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to discuss the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. The White House said in an earlier statement that its objective is to “maintain strategic communication and responsibly manage the relationship.” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on January 23 that the United States “would welcome a constructive role by China, using the influence and the access that we know they have,” to engage Iran and prevent further attacks on civilian ships.