The disruption, causing suspended transit through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, is significantly impacting global trade.
China, being the world’s largest trading nation, faces economic risks with disruptions in the Red Sea affecting vital trade routes, especially those to Europe.
The ongoing Red Sea shipping crisis triggered by Houthi rebel attacks has positioned China as a key player, showcasing its geopolitical influence as the U.S. seems to step back from its traditional role as a global security provider.
Diplomatic Efforts and Chinese Hesitancy
Despite diplomatic efforts by the Biden administration urging China to leverage its influence on Iran – a major backer of the Houthi rebels – to end the attacks, Beijing has been hesitant to actively engage in resolving the crisis. China’s public statements have been limited, calling on all relevant parties to ensure navigation safety.
U.S. Navy’s Struggles: Operation Prosperity Guardian
The historical role of the United States as the “upholder of international commerce and rules” is under scrutiny. The U.S. Navy’s attempt, Operation Prosperity Guardian, to secure the Red Sea faced challenges, highlighting a potential breakdown in the traditional international order. With key European nations declining to participate, the U.S.-led initiative faltered.
China’s Strategic Response
In response to its vulnerabilities, China has strategically navigated the crisis. Smaller Chinese shippers, including China United Lines (CULines), have seized commercial opportunities by establishing new shipping routes through the Red Sea. Chinese vessels prominently display national flags and identification data, potentially deterring attacks. This crisis provides China with an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage or become the de facto security provider in the Middle East.
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