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ModernDiplomacy.eu: Chinese intervention in the Red Sea and its relationship to the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Thursday, 29 February 2024

Many questions and analyzes have been raised regarding the Chinese intervention in the Red Sea. Is it temporary and will Washington accept it?

Many questions and analyzes have been raised regarding the Chinese intervention in the Red Sea. Is it temporary and will Washington accept it? The extent of its direct impact on the scene in the Red Sea and even the overall regional interactions in the region, and will it be a message to Iran and its Houthi arm or a message of opposition to the American-British presence?  The Red Sea is the main artery for Chinese goods to Europe, with 99% of container ships sailing between Europe and China passing through the Suez Canal before December 2023.  After the Gaza War or the outbreak of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7, 2023, the Iranian-backed Houthis launched at least 34 attacks on ships passing through the waterways leading to the Egyptian Suez Canal, which is a vital route for energy and goods coming from Asia and the Middle East to Europe. Here we must understand that no less than 90% of the container ships that were passing through the Suez Canal are now changing their course around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope.

   Here, the security disturbances in the Red Sea affect regional stability, in light of the policy of alliances between Iran and the Houthi group, which implements Tehran’s goals through proxy wars in the region, with fears of Tehran using the escalation card on the Red Sea front, through pressure from the Houthi group on  International maritime traffic, and its exerting popular pressure on Arab countries, especially Egypt, in light of the Suez Canal being affected by these Houthi attacks. The Houthi attacks affected Egypt’s maritime security through the Suez Canal, especially after the signing of the initial agreement between Ethiopia and the separatist region of Somaliland regarding access to the Red Sea, the return of maritime piracy on the Somali coast, and the exacerbation of the fragile security situation in Somalia with the growth of Al-Shabaab terrorist attacks. Which led to the exacerbation of the turbulent security scene, and the spread of many regional tensions, which were exploited by terrorist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda, led by Al-Shabaab in Somalia, in order to expand and control wider areas of this important sea corridor in the Red Sea.        

  Therefore, China expressed its rejection of the American-British attacks that targeted Houthi sites in Yemen, while also declaring the Chinese position of dissatisfaction with the Houthi practices, coinciding with the Chinese side’s call on the Houthi militia to abide by the provisions of the Security Council resolution and immediately stop obstructing civilian ships, and respect freedom of navigation for all countries in the Red Sea. The Houthi attacks, represented by missile strikes and drone attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, affected many ships owned and operated by Chinese and European companies such as the Danish company Maersk. These attacks caused many international and Chinese commercial shipping companies to change their route and avoid this region, in favor of longer, more expensive, but relatively safer routes around the African continent, which led to an increase in time and cost, with a slowdown in international trade.  Here we must take into consideration that China has sent more than 150 warships to the Gulf of Aden since 2008, and after the Gaza War or Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, China sent 6 warships to the Middle East, to protect Chinese shipping traffic in that region.

  Although China does not agree with what the Ansar Allah Houthi group is doing in Yemen, it refused to join the Prosperity Alliance, and China even condemned all American-British strikes on Yemen.  Beijing also abstained from voting on Security Council Resolution 2722, and announced that this resolution did not authorize anyone to use force against Yemen. Here, China is trying to maintain the good relations it has with the Arab countries, and does not want to be counted among the American-British alliance that is ostracized by the Arab countries.

  Also, with the increase in attacks by the pro-Iranian Houthis on the movement of ships and maritime navigation in the Red Sea, Chinese trade movement around the world has been affected, especially through the Egyptian Suez Canal, due to the increasing intensity of the military presence in the Red Sea region, as China fears the possibility of wider conflicts erupting.  If Israel continues the war or expands the scope of its operations to include the Palestinian city of Rafah, China will seek to protect its interests in the Red Sea and in Africa, as it has pumped tens of billions of dollars in investments in many African countries to protect its interests. The great power conflict began immediately after the Gaza War with the militarization of the Red Sea, which began with the United States of America’s announcement on December 19, 2023 of the establishment of the “Guardian of Prosperity” coalition, and then the European Union’s announcement later, specifically on February 19, 2024, of its establishment of what is known as the “ASPEEDS” force in the Red Sea, and finally with China’s intervention to protect its interests through the Chinese official announcement on February 24, 2024 about sending China’s 46th Southern Fleet to the Red Sea region, with the Chinese military fleet sailing from the port of the coastal city of Changjing in Guangdong Province in southern China, to accompany the Chinese naval fleet.  In the Gulf of Aden region in Yemen and the waters off the coast of Somalia, the work of the Chinese naval forces will be organized into three operational task forces, which will focus primarily on the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden regions, and the other will focus on combating piracy in the Horn of Africa region.

   For this reason, the Chinese Ambassador to Yemen, “Chao Zheng,” warned that Chinese maritime navigation through the Red Sea would be affected by the escalating tension there, while officially demanding the need to stop the war on Gaza in order to stop these attacks against commercial ships. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also pointed out the increase in insurance prices for maritime transport and ships, with some Chinese ships forced to pass through South Africa, which raises costs and prolongs the distance and time for their arrival. Therefore, China issued a call for the need to spare the region and the world from the escalation of the tense situation in the Red Sea, because of its importance and impact.  On China, the Middle East region, and the entire world.  With the official Chinese warning that the continuation of the conflict in the Red Sea may get out of control, while calling on all concerned parties to maintain the common security of the Red Sea, respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries bordering it, and not interfere in their affairs.  The Houthi attacks in the Red Sea have disrupted vital trade routes for China, especially with regard to delaying the arrival of shipments and high shipping costs, given that most of China’s commercial ships tend to sail via the Cape of Good Hope route, to avoid Houthi attacks, a consideration that pushes towards strengthening China’s defense and insurance security presence in the Red Sea, ensuring that this scenario is avoided and its effects are reduced.

   Finally, we find that China’s position on what is happening in the region after the Gaza War is clear and frank, especially with what is happening specifically in the Red Sea region, where Beijing considered that the tensions taking place in the Red Sea are the result of the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip, and that the solution is to return safety to the region must put pressure on Israel to stop the war taking place there.

Dr.Nadia Helmy
 
   *Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit

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