The Middle East Conundrum: China Connection to Houthi Strikes

Guest post by Antonio Graceffo

A Houthi promise not to attack Chinese ships in the Red Sea has led to speculation regarding China’s alleged involvement in the Middle East escalation, with a suggested motive of diverting US attention and stretching defense capabilities thin—potentially clearing the path for a Taiwan invasion. Regardless of the validity of these claims, what remains certain is that the Houthi attacks are undeniably exerting a negative impact on China.

In November 2023, shortly after the Hamas attack on Israel, the Houthis, an Iran-backed militia in Yemen, initiated attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea. In response, the US established an international coalition dedicated to ensuring the safety of maritime navigation in the Red Sea. The coalition engages in patrols, surveillance, and information sharing to both deter and respond to threats against shipping.

Moreover, the US has carried out airstrikes against Houthi positions in Yemen, while the Houthis’ attacks on ships in the Red Sea persist. The deteriorating situation is causing shipping companies to avoid the region, disrupting global supply chains. International shipping and insurance costs are rising, and the additional costs will be passed on to consumers.

Shortly after the Hamas conflict erupted, the US swiftly deployed naval vessels and military personnel to the region. Simultaneously, defense-related aid was sent to Israel. The Red Sea faced heightened tensions due to Houthi attacks, necessitating increased vigilance against drone and missile strikes. In Iraq and Yemen, US forces had to reinforce their positions amid escalating attacks.

The growing threats and violence prompted the US to allocate more funds to the military. Meanwhile, the ongoing war in Ukraine continues to strain US resources. Exploiting the situation, China made progress in its Indo-Pacific dominance bid by persuading Nauru to shift recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

There is speculation suggesting that China may be behind the Houthi attacks. China has been an economic patron of Iran, and Iran supports both Hamas and the Houthis. Additionally, Hamas has been found to be using Chinese weapons.

One potential benefit for China in the Middle East escalation is that, if planning to invade Taiwan, they might prefer to have the U.S. engaged on multiple fronts. With a war in Ukraine and an expanding conflict in the Middle East, U.S. resources would be spread thin and less likely to defend Taiwan. However, whether this speculation is accurate or not, the Houthi situation has so far been detrimental to China.

The Red Sea serves as a vital shipping route for Chinese exports, especially to Europe and Africa. Houthi attacks disrupt this crucial flow, resulting in delays, rerouting, and heightened shipping costs. Such disruptions can impact the competitiveness of Chinese goods and lead to financial losses for businesses. Even if the Houthis uphold their promise not to attack Chinese ships, the repercussions will still extend to Chinese imports and exports transported on non-Chinese vessels.

Moreover, China heavily depends on oil imports from the Middle East, a significant portion of which traverses the Red Sea. Although the Houthis haven’t directly targeted oil tankers thus far, the looming threat of attacks contributes to uncertainty and is placing upward pressure on energy prices globally, affecting all nations, including China.

The PRC’s domestic economy is already on a downward trend, and heightened energy costs coupled with reduced imports and exports would worsen an already challenging situation. Such developments would be seen as a failure for Xi Jinping, whose legitimacy is largely tied to his capacity to stimulate domestic economic growth.

Xi’s leadership in China is characterized by efforts to enhance the country’s global standing and potentially replace the US as the dominant world power. As part of this strategy, China actively seeks to strengthen its presence in the Middle East, even mediating a peace agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, the growing frequency of Houthi attacks poses a potential threat to Beijing’s expanding economic and political influence in the region.

China has made substantial investments in infrastructure projects along the Red Sea, including ports and logistics hubs. The instability caused by the attacks could jeopardize these investments and hinder future economic cooperation in the region. If China fails to safeguard its trade interests and uphold regional stability, there is a risk of tarnishing its reputation as a trustworthy partner on the international stage.

The Middle East is already in a volatile state, and any missteps by any involved party could lead to further escalation. China needs to tread carefully to avoid being drawn into a wider conflict that could harm its interests. While Beijing has called for the Houthis to cease their attacks on civilian vessels, it has not condemned the Houthis and has even labeled US airstrikes against Yemen as illegal.

China is navigating a delicate path with the Houthis, seeking an end to the attacks but reluctant to align its interests with the US and Israel. Despite attempting to portray itself as a peacemaker in the Israel-Hamas conflict, Beijing has not achieved success. Calling for the Houthis to stop harassing foreign ships, Beijing is also likely to meet with failure. Although the US is grappling with the strain of multiple wars, China is also affected by the Middle East conflict. This further complicates Beijing’s considerations in planning when to potentially invade Taiwan.

The post The Middle East Conundrum: China Connection to Houthi Strikes appeared first on The Gateway Pundit.

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