How China ended up financing the Houthis’ Red Sea attacks

By Matthew Karnitschnig | 03/29/2024 06:35 AM EDT

By purchasing Iranian oil, Beijing is helping disrupt the trade on which its economy depends.

China is unwittingly helping Iran choke off ship traffic in the Red Sea, impairing global trade flows and damaging Beijing’s own interests in the process, Western intelligence officials say.

China’s illicit purchases of Iranian oil are indirectly financing the recent string of attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the Red Sea and have had a chilling effect on shipping. About 15 percent of global trade flows through the corridor that leads from the Gulf Aden through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, linking Asia and Europe.

China buys about 90 percent of Iran’s oil, including crude sold by the Quds Force, the paramilitary arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that is responsible for Tehran’s foreign military operations. Quds Force trains and funds Iran’s terror proxies across the Middle East, for example, including both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Yemen’s Houthi rebels.


The Houthis “are attacking international routes, and the first country hurt by it is China itself,” one of the officials said. “I’m not sure they’re aware they’re cutting off the branch their sitting on.”