China Urges Iran to Restrain Houthi Attacks in the Red Sea, Reuters Reports

China Urges Iran to Restrain Houthi Attacks in the Red Sea, Reuters Reports

 Chinese officials have reportedly urged their Iranian counterparts to intervene in the attacks on ships in the Red Sea by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Four Iranian sources and a diplomat familiar with the matter revealed that discussions on the attacks and trade took place in recent meetings in Beijing and Tehran. China has expressed concerns, indicating that any harm to its interests, particularly shipping disruptions, may impact its business relations with Iran. The Houthi attacks, ostensibly in support of Palestinians in Gaza, have disrupted a vital trade route between Asia and Europe, affecting Chinese shipping and raising costs.

While China remains Iran's largest trading partner, the trade relationship is imbalanced. Chinese oil refiners purchased over 90% of Iran's crude exports last year due to U.S. sanctions, while Iranian oil constitutes only 10% of China's crude imports. Beijing emphasized its disappointment if vessels linked to China were targeted, but did not make explicit threats about the trading relationship.

Despite China's significant economic leverage, Tehran's regional alliances, including proxies in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, shape its decisions. The Houthis, supported by Iran, continue attacks despite military strikes by the U.S. and British forces. The U.S. has reportedly asked China to use its influence with Iran to restrain the Houthis.

China, as the world's largest trading nation, is disproportionately affected by the shipping disruption, but it has been reluctant to use its leverage fully. China has called for an end to attacks on civilian ships in the Red Sea without explicitly blaming the Houthis or mentioning Iran. Observers note that China may view Israel's treatment of Palestinians as the root cause of the crisis.

China's influence over Iran is evident in facilitating agreements, such as the 2023 deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, Beijing's influence is not absolute, and Iran's decision-making is influenced by various factors, including regional alliances, ideological considerations, and economic priorities. Some within Iran question the value of the partnership with China, citing relatively low non-oil trade and investment volumes.

The stakes are high for Iran, as China's potential investment is crucial for maintaining its oil sector and economic stability. The outcome of discussions between China and Iran remains uncertain, as Tehran must balance its regional alliances and priorities while addressing China's concerns about the Houthi attacks.

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