China advances its role as mediator in Yemen, extends diplomatic footprint in Middle East

China is heightening its presence in the Middle East, demonstrating a renewed interest in assisting the resolution as a mediator in Yemen’s ongoing crisis. An increased focus on diplomatic engagement underpins China’s strategy, highlighting its emergent importance in regional affairs.

On Friday, 7 July, the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, met with Zhai Jun, China’s Special Envoy for the Middle East. The officials engaged in discussions regarding “ways to strengthen international support for mediation,” a measure currently led by the UN in a bid to end the war that has ravaged Yemen. While this diplomatic dialogue didn’t produce any immediate, substantial announcements, it underscored China’s rising role in the Middle East, extending to the complex Yemen issue.

China’s approach has so far remained relatively subdued, limiting itself to diplomatic meetings such as this, and the welcoming of Yemen’s President in Beijing last December. Despite the absence of explicit declarations or the orchestration of highly publicised summits, it is apparent that Chinese diplomacy is quietly, but increasingly, becoming a force in the Middle East.

China has considerable potential to influence the situation in Yemen. Prior to the war, it was the country’s second-largest trading partner. In 2021, its imports from Yemen still reached $411 million, primarily in oil and copper. Though Beijing officially maintains no relations with the non-state armed groups in the country, it is unlikely that such a high level of trade could be sustained solely with the exiled government. This suggests that China may be engaging commercially with various Yemeni factions.

Beijing is also playing a strategic geopolitical card. Anticipating a US disengagement from the region, China has increased its investment and involvement. It has notably sponsored the Saudi-Iran reconciliation and strengthened its ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are the main sponsors of the conflicting groups in Yemen. These connections place China in a strong position to act as a mediator in Yemen, underscoring its ever-growing influence in the Middle East.


Tags : China, Yemen