Chinese state media on Friday mocked the Biden administration for requesting China’s help with the Red Sea shipping crisis.
A group of anonymous Iranian officials told Reuters that while Beijing is not interested in helping the United States, it has informed the Iranians that attacks by their Houthi terrorist proxies in Yemen must not damage China’s interests in any way.
Biden administration officials have been flummoxed that China did not take action on its own when rising shipping costs began hurting Chinese companies. The administration has grown increasingly explicit over the past few weeks about asking Beijing to exert its influence with Iran to make the Houthis back down.
China is clearly suffering from the Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping, which have largely cut off a shipping line essential to fast, affordable freight service from Asia to Europe. Chinese export companies are growing increasingly nervous about loss of profit, and possibly even the destruction of entire business models, from skyrocketing freight costs.
The Chinese Communist Party has seemingly been content to absorb these losses because the political and economic damage from the Red Sea crisis is so much worse for the United States and its allies. China put out a few weak statements calling for all parties to respect the safety of shipping, but also insisting that only Israel calling off its military operation against Hamas in Gaza could truly make the Red Sea safe again.
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According to Reuters sources in Iran, that geopolitical calculation shifted a little over the past week, as Chinese officials told their Iranian counterparts in several meetings that the Houthi attacks are inflicting unacceptable harm on Beijing’s interests.
“Basically, China says: ‘If our interests are harmed in any way, it will impact our business with Tehran. So tell the Houthis to show restraint,’” said one Iranian official.
The Houthis have already promised not to attack Chinese or Russian ships, but China cannot rely exclusively on its own ships to move all of its cargo.
The Iranian officials who spoke with Reuters said China did not lean on Iran very hard, possibly because fossil-fuel-hungry China is not in a position to reduce its oil purchases to punish the Iranians for refusing to cooperate. Chinese officials reportedly “did not make any specific comments or threats about how Beijing’s trading relationship with Iran could be affected if its interests were damaged by Houthi attacks.”
Instead, China’s emissaries settled for making it clear that Beijing “would be very disappointed with Tehran if any vessels linked to China were hit, or the country’s interests were affected in any way.”
One of the inside sources said that Iran’s response was to assure China that its business was valued, but Iran intends to continue pursuing its regional agenda through the Houthis and other proxies, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
“A diplomat familiar with the matter said China had been talking to Iran about the issue but it was unclear how seriously Tehran was taking Beijing’s advice,” Reuters reported.
A Houthi spokesman insisted on Thursday that Iran continues to fully support the Houthi terror attacks, regarding their position as “honorable and responsible.”
None of Reuters’ inside sources saw any evidence that Iran intends to change its position. “Regional alliances and priorities, as well as ideological considerations, contribute significant[ly] to Tehran’s decisions,” one of them said.
There was also no evidence in the Red Sea theater that the Biden administration’s pleas with China have had any effect on the Houthis. The Yemeni terrorists attacked American cargo ships under escort by the U.S. Navy on Wednesday, forcing the cargo ships to turn back, and their owner Maersk to suspend all U.S.-flagged operations in the Red Sea. More missile launches and explosions in the area were reported by UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) on Friday.
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China’s state-run Global Times on Friday mocked President Joe Biden for thinking China would save him from his Red Sea debacle after Washington has been so rude to Beijing for so many years.
“The timing of the news is interesting, as the U.S. has been organizing allied armed escorts in the Red Sea for over a month and conducting military strikes against the Houthi armed group for over two weeks, with little effect in terms of containment,” the Global Times chortled.
After running through the usual boilerplate about how China wants safe international shipping as much as anyone else, the Global Times suggested Biden try asking for Beijing’s help again, but this time “without irritable or ambiguous undertones” about China’s good friends in Iran:
The U.S. has always paid special attention to China’s relationship with Iran, but most of the time, it views the ties through biased lens. Normal cooperation between China and Iran has constantly been demonized by the U.S., and normal economic and trade exchanges have repeatedly faced Washington’s sanctions under the “long-arm jurisdiction,” as if any contact between China and Iran is viewed unfavorably by the U.S.
However, since the recent escalation of the Israel-Palestine conflict, US officials have repeatedly asked China to leverage this relationship and exert “influence” on Iran. If they believe the expected results are not achieved, they even criticize China. This obvious contradiction is a perfect portrayal of U.S.’ selfishness and double standards on the international stage.
The Global Times hooted that the failure of the U.S. initiative to protect Red Sea shipping, Operation Prosperity Guardian, and the ineffectiveness of limited punitive airstrikes against the Houthis left Biden looking like “a figure increasingly passive and struggling to cope in the Red Sea.”