Chinese policy in the Middle East is shaped by two factors: China’s threat perceptions and its strategic calculus regarding its great-power competition with the United States.

And when it comes to dealing with the U.S., China’s approach comes down to three nos: no cooperation, no support and no confrontation. This credo underlies China’s decision not to push back against the Iran-backed Houthis as they carry out drone and missile attacks on Red Sea shipping lanes.

The Red Sea attacks — a response to Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza — have not directly threatened Chinese ships and the Houthis insist this will not change. No Chinese or Russian vessels will be targeted, a senior Houthi official declared last month, as long as they are not connected with Israel. But the attacks will still affect China’s economic interests, and not only because of the need to avoid links with Israel. (COSCO, China’s largest shipping conglomerate, has already been forced to suspend all shipping to Israel, owing to security concerns.)