China Asks Iran to Tell Houthi, Attacking Red Sea, to ‘Show Restraint’

 In China, International Shipping, President Biden, shippers, Suez Canal

Shippers are waiting for someone to do something about the Iran-backed Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea, which have escalated, disrupted international shipping, and catapulted freight rates. Well, it looks like China is trying to use its leverage with Iran to make it safer for ships to traverse the area and use the Suez Canal for international shipping again.

American, Chinese, and Iranian flags

Parisa Hafezi and Andrew Hayley reported in Reuters:

Chinese officials have asked their Iranian counterparts to help rein in attacks on ships in the Red Sea by the Iran-backed Houthis, or risk harming business relations with Beijing, four Iranian sources and a diplomat familiar with the matter said.

The discussions about the attacks and trade between China and Iran took place at several recent meetings in Beijing and Tehran, the Iranian sources said…

“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 briefed on the talks, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

China is Iran’s biggest trade partner. The lopsided nature of the trade between China and Iran, as described by Hafezi and Hayley, should give China significant leverage on Iran:

Chinese oil refiners, for example, bought over 90% of Iran’s crude exports last year, according to tanker tracking data from trade analytics firm Kpler, as U.S. sanctions kept many other customers away and Chinese firms profited from heavy discounts.

Iranian oil, though, only accounts for 10% of China’s crude imports and Beijing has an array of suppliers that could plug shortfalls from elsewhere.

China’s leverage would be stronger if the Biden administration hadn’t loosened sanctions on Iran since President Biden took office, increasing the country’s koffers by billions of dollars, which helped Iran pump money into terrorist organizations like Hamas and the Houthi rebels. Iran has even funded scores of attacks directly on U.S. soldiers in the region.

U.S. officials said the drone used to kill 3 U.S. soldiers and injure many more in Jordan was Iran-made. President Biden vowed to respond against Iran. The president now has even said he’s decided on the response. We’ll have to wait and see what that response is. However, with his history of moves made abroad, from his botched exit from Afghanistan to now, doesn’t give much confidence in his decisions.

Unfortunately, China getting Iran to rein in the attacks in the Red Sea seem more realistic than the Biden Administration succeeding there.

The language used in the Reuters article isn’t as strong as China telling Iran it will cut off trade if Iran doesn’t stop the attacks. However, there is a subtext of threat to the friendlier-sounding words reported:

The Iranian sources said Beijing had made it clear it would be very disappointed with Tehran if any vessels linked to China were hit, or the country’s interests were affected in any way.

Very disappointed. I’ll bet you’ve heard that language from your own parents growing up. “I’m not angry, just very disappointed.” Yeah, we all know really means you’re angry as hell, Mom.

I don’t think Iran wants to test what what a very angry–ahem–very disappointed China will do. Hopefully, that will result in Iran reining in the Houthi rebels, if they’re even controllable by Iran at this point, and quelling the attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

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