Beijing shrugs at U.S. call for help protecting Red Sea shipping

Wang’s reference to “major countries with influence” reflects Beijing’s recognition that the U.S. and its allies and partners can muster, at speed, far greater naval power necessary for a seaborne shipping protection campaign
than Beijing currently can
. Wang didn’t address whether Beijing would use its
close relationship with Iran
, which provides arms and funding to the Houthis, to seek an end to those attacks.

The Houthi attacks will continue “whether a naval alliance is established or not,” Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdulsalam
said on Tuesday, per Reuters
. Up to 15 percent of global trade traverses the Red Sea and the Houthi attacks have prompted cargo vessel rerouting “adding weeks to the delivery of key goods and materials, including oil and gas,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin
told reporters on Tuesday.

Blinken raised U.S. concerns about the attacks’ “unacceptable threat to maritime security and international law”
in a phone call
with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier this month. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller re-upped the administration’s interest in Chinese assistance in policing the areas of the Red Sea where the Houthis have attacked cargo vessels in a press briefing on Tuesday. Houthi attacks on international shipping “Harm China… so yes, we would welcome China playing a constructive role in trying to prevent those attacks from taking place,” Miller
told reporters on Tuesday

The State Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Wang’s statement reflects Beijing’s wider passivity in addressing the crises that have engulfed the Middle East since the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and the ongoing Israel-Hamas war which has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians.

Following the Oct. 7 attack Beijing dispatched its special envoy to the Middle East, Zhai Jun, for a multi-country swing through the region aimed to “cool down the situation,” Chinese state media
reported in October
. Zhai led Beijing’s efforts in brokering a
hostility-reduction agreement
between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March.

But Zhai’s diplomatic mission excluded outreach to both Israel and the Palestine Authority and consisted mainly of
vague expressions of support
for “political settlement” of long standing grievances underpinning the current violence.

David Satterfield, President Joe Biden’s Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues,
said in October
that that gap between rhetoric and action reflects Beijing’s sensitivity “to being compelled on any international issue to take a stand which could indicate, even obliquely, that China is supportive of ‘international interventions’ or applications of international law.”