US courts China to join anti-Houthi naval task force

The US has been courting China to join the maritime task force it announced this week in response to Iran-backed Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, a senior US diplomat said.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced on Monday Operation Prosperity Guardian, which he said was in response to “reckless Houthi attacks” from Yemen in the Red Sea.

Countries joining the naval task force include the UK, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain. US officials said other countries have committed to providing different forms of aid, including assets or intelligence, but have chosen to keep their role private.

However, the US had hoped to get Beijing on board with the hopes of the Chinese being able to exert pressure on Yemen’s Houthis to halt their attacks.

More countries are expected to be added later, officials familiar with the deliberations on the task force said.

“The Chinese haven’t rebuffed us,” the senior US diplomat said. “It would be huge if we could get the Chinese to sign on,” added the diplomat, who was not authorized to speak to the media.

Asked about China’s participation, State Department Spokesman Matt Miller said Washington would welcome a constructive role played by Beijing to prevent Houthi attacks.

Miller also said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised the issue of Houthi attacks harming the interests of the US, China and every other country during a call with his Chinese counterpart.

Military ties had been cut between the US and China for months after the latter grew frustrated with US policy and support for Taiwan among other issues. But the two countries agreed to resume mil-to-mil ties last month during a meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Yemeni militia has said it will target all ships heading to Israel until the Gaza war ends. They have lobbed drones, missiles and rockets at Israel and at vessels transiting in the area. US warships have shot down a number of these projectiles and the French and British militaries said they also foiled Houthi attacks.

A number of countries that did not join the US-led maritime task force signed a joint statement on Tuesday, condemning the Houthi attacks.

“Such behavior also threatens the movement of food, fuel, humanitarian assistance, and other essential commodities to destinations and populations all over the world,” said the countries, which included South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Australia.

“The undersigned further encourage all states to refrain from facilitation or encouragement of the Houthis. There is no justification for these attacks, which affect many countries beyond the flags these ships sail under,” they said. NATO and the European Union also signed the joint statement.

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