Beijing deserves some credit for bringing the end of one of the most brutal conflicts in history closer
Eight and a half years of the Yemeni civil war has seen the Arab country torn into shreds.
Estimates suggest at least 350,000 people have died from the war or its consequences, which began in 2014. This includes approximately 85,000 children under the age of five who have died of starvation. Basic civil infrastructure and supply chains have collapsed, and typically treatable communicable diseases like cholera have claimed countless lives.
The war is primarily between the Yemeni government of Rashad al-Alimi, who took over in 2022 from Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, and the Houthi armed movement. The conflict escalated significantly when Saudi Arabia became involved in 2015 by backing Hadi (and now al-Alimi) in what is seen as a proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran, who is rumored to be supporting the Houthis.
Some of my first memories as a writer and college radio host was speaking to victims of the war and learning about the situation on the ground.
Fortunately, it now looks like the war might come to a close. US media reported on April 6th that a ceasefire had been struck between warring parties at least through the end of this year. Then, on April 7th, Lebanese news outlet Al Mayadeen reported that Riyadh had informed the Yemeni presidential leadership council of its decision to end the war and close the Yemen file once for all. This was further corroborated by a Reuters report, confirming that Saudi delegates would travel to the capital Sana’a to discuss a “permanent ceasefire.” And indeed these talks just wrapped up on April 14th and are expected to have a follow-up.
What is apparent from this situation, and what I had previously noted, is that the thawing of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia would likely lead to an end to the conflicts in Yemen and Syria. We are now seeing that play out. Most importantly, it was not US President Joe Biden – who had promised to end the conflict – but China that set the stage for this diplomatic achievement. And it’s not even a secret among US commentators since outlets like The Intercept, heavily quoting foreign policy experts, are giving China the credit.
It is difficult to compare such horrors but in my years speaking with victims of conflict, including Ukrainian refugees now, or previously with Afghans, Syrians and others, some of the most striking stories I’ve heard are from Yemenis. It is undoubtedly one of the most brutal and total wars seen in modern history, yet almost entirely off the radar for most Western media for nearly a decade.
Despite all of its diplomatic capital and links to the Middle East, somehow Washington managed – despite promising to halt the conflict – to be so anti-peace that it has driven perennial enemies to the table. And now, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, CIA Director William Burns “expressed frustration” with Riyadh over its rapprochements with regional adversaries. Apparently, the US feels ‘blindsided’ by the deluge of peaceful resolutions – things it could never even fathom, apparently – and it’s angry with Riyadh, hitherto one of America’s largest arms importers.
Of course, buried under this frustration is a sense of loss. Anyone with some degree of familiarity with US politics and especially US foreign policy knows it is dominated by big money. In foreign affairs, this is primarily the military-industrial complex, which thrives off war and hatred. Peace is bad for business. And thus, the owners of US officials – the people who bankroll their campaigns and/or their bosses’ campaigns – are probably ticked.
Such a reaction explains why US diplomacy is inherently antithetical to peace. The US has been involved in numerous conflicts in the Middle East for some three decades, arguably more. With all of this history between Washington and its ‘partners’ in the region, it has extraordinarily little to show for it. The truth is that the US has stoked, proliferated and literally profited from sowing discord and conflict.
On the other hand, China wants to do business in other ways. Beijing is, to be fair, the fourth largest arms supplier in the world – but, according to Statista, it only has a global market share of 5.2% compared to Washington’s 40%. Chinese companies want to sell their goods or services, develop infrastructure and sell affordable and reliable products. This creates a political environment where stability, predictability and orderliness are cherished values.
As such, Chinese diplomacy is largely to thank for the expected conclusion of the gruesome human tragedy that has been the war in Yemen. Counter to what Washington spews about their so-called “rules-based international order” that no one can ever seem to articulate, Beijing believes in the post-WWII status quo – international law, the United Nations, sovereignty and diplomacy. And that is precisely why a growing number of high-level European officials, including most recently French President Emmanuel Macron, believe China can also help mediate the conflict in Ukraine.
Bradley Blankenship is an American journalist, columnist and political commentator. He has a syndicated column at CGTN and is a freelance reporter for international news agencies including Xinhua News Agency.