Canada says China has role to play in keeping Red Sea safe

By Thomson Reuters Feb 18, 2024 | 10:46 AM

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly on Sunday said China should play a role in keeping the Red Sea safe for commerce because Chinese ships are at risk there as well, and urged Beijing to stop helping Russia sidestep international sanctions.

In an interview, Joly said she told China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a bilateral meeting on Saturday that Beijing needs “to help to influence the Houthis to keep the Red Sea open.”

“It’s in China’s interests as an exporter,” Joly told Reuters by phone on the last day of the Munich Security Conference.

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis have staged a series of attacks in the Red Sea on commercial vessels, including the oil tanker M/T Pollux that U.S. officials said was hit by a missile on Friday.

The attacks, which the Houthis say are in support of Palestinians in Gaza, have raised the cost of shipping and insurance by disrupting a key trade route between Asia and Europe used widely by ships from China. The U.S. and Britain have both urged China to intervene through Iran to rein in the attacks.

Joly also said she spoke to Yi about making sure that Western sanctions against Russia hold as the war in Ukraine drags on.

“We need to put maximum pressure on Russia,” Joly said. “Our sanctions are strong, but China cannot be the loophole in our sanction system.”

Last year Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia to become China’s top crude oil supplier as the world’s biggest crude importer defied Western sanctions to purchase vast quantities of discounted oil for its processing plants.

Chinese refiners use intermediary traders to handle the shipping and insurance of Russian crude to avoid violating Western sanctions.

After the Saturday meeting with Joly, Yi spoke of the need to “rebuild trust” with Canada after years of diplomatic tensions.

China-Canada relations turned icy in late 2018 when Canadian police detained a Chinese telecommunications executive. Shortly after, Beijing arrested two Canadians on spying charges.

Relations remained strained for most of last year as Canada’s parliament probed alleged Chinese meddling in its elections, a claim China repeatedly denied.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer, editing by Deepa Babington)