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Red Sea Shipping: A Call for the US to Rethink Protection for Chinese Vessels

Red Sea Shipping: A Call for the US to Rethink Protection for Chinese Vessels (Photo: California Globe)

The U.S. has launched a maritime security initiative to address Houthi rebel attacks on global shipping in the Red Sea. Two subsequent measures are now necessary.


Red Sea Shipping: A Call for the US to Rethink Protection for Chinese Vessels (Photo: The Wall Street Journal)

Strategic Recommendations for Addressing Houthi Threats and Red Sea Shipping Challenges

First, President Joe Biden should authorize air and missile operations against Houthi forces in Yemen. To lend legitimacy to these strikes, the idea advises involving the UK, France, and Spain, all maritime security initiative participants. The goal is to undermine Houthi capabilities, change their strategic calculations, and focus deterrence against Iran, especially in the Israel-Hamas conflict, where Iran supports and influences the Houthis.

The second suggestion is for President Joe Biden to expressly state that the U.S. will not protect Chinese ships in the Red Sea. Beijing has refused to join the maritime security program despite its naval capability and economic interests. China exported roughly $700 billion to Europe in 2022, but the Houthis’ interruptions prompted many of these shipments to take longer routes around Africa, hurting China’s economy.

Shipping charges have increased due to the 10-day route change. In the latest Freightos Baltic Index update, a 40-foot container from China to the Mediterranean cost $2,414, up more than 70%, according to the South China Morning Post. Routes from China to Northern Europe rose 55% to $1,467 last month. Some ships still transport commodities to and from China via the Red Sea.

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Security Challenges: Houthi Threats, South China Sea Tensions, and the Question of U.S. Obligation

Houthi rebels are unlikely to attack Chinese warships to anger Iran, but their identification and targeting are inaccurate. The main point is that the US is not required to provide free security for China, especially under current conditions. While the Houthis target international shipping in the Red Sea, Chinese maritime militia and coast guard vessels fight Philippine vessels in the South China Sea.

The Philippines is a U.S. treaty defense ally, and China’s activities undermine international water navigation rights like the Houthis’. For the U.S. to safeguard Chinese shipping interests would be ridiculous, and other maritime initiative members can do so.

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