Chinese officials have reportedly communicated to their Iranian counterparts, urging them to intervene in the Houthi rebel group’s ongoing attacks on merchant vessels in the Red Sea. According to Reuters, this marks the first known report of direct discussions on the subject, with China warning Iran that failure to address the issue could jeopardize their crucial trade partnership.
An Iranian official briefed on the talks stated, “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.'” Reuters reported that the Chinese government is actively encouraging Iran to “rein in” the Yemen-based Houthi fighters.
Publicly, China has expressed disapproval of disruptions to international shipping and emphasized its commitment to maritime security. However, it has not openly condemned the Houthi rebels, who have been responsible for numerous drone and anti-ship ballistic missile strikes on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.
The Houthis claim to oppose Israel and act in solidarity with the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Notably, China did not condemn Hamas’ attack on October 7, linking the Red Sea shipping crisis to the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Behind the scenes, Houthi attacks are reportedly causing significant disruptions to Chinese trade, leading several major shipping companies to seek alternative routes.
The participants in the China-Iran discussions were not revealed, but exchanges on the matter occurred in recent meetings in Beijing and Tehran. These discussions emphasized that the extensive trade ties between China and Iran could be jeopardized if the attacks continue.
While the Chinese pressure was described as indirect and lacking explicit threats, Iranian sources indicated that Beijing left no doubt about its disappointment if vessels linked to China were targeted or if Chinese interests were compromised in any way.
As of now, China’s Foreign Ministry has not responded to requests for comment on the Reuters report. China holds a crucial role as a major supplier for Iran’s missile and drone program, with a defense technology partnership dating back to the Cold War. Additionally, Chinese oil refiners constitute Iran’s largest customers, accounting for an estimated 90 percent or more of its crude oil exports last year.
Despite U.S. and British strikes on Houthi-held areas in Yemen, the rebels’ activities persist. The Shiite Muslim Houthi movement, which emerged in the 1980s, now controls a significant portion of Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa, and stretches of the country’s Red Sea coastline.
The rebels are believed to be funded, trained, and armed by Iran, prompting U.S. officials to seek Chinese intervention for the sake of maritime security.