top of page

Rebuilding Yemen Requires an Unlikely Partner - China

Updated: Mar 31

Christopher Ali Rahimian-Smith

US President Joe Biden and President of China Xi Jinping meet at 2022 G20 Summit in Bali,

The perpetual threat of violence and humanitarian denials are the new norm for the people of Yemen. The nine-year war has created a dyslexia of proxies that continue destabilizing all aspects of political, economic, and social prosperity, displacing around twenty-one million people. The calculus of rebuilding a state proves to be counterintuitive. Relinquishing military activities with Saudi Arabia and accepting the current diplomatic strategy as defeat is vital for the US to reconstruct its approach in the Middle East.

Current US efforts to provide humanitarian aid and military support in Yemen fail to address their economic collapse and ideological tensions. The US should focus on establishing a government that allows regional groups to have a say in government while opening up trade with investment in the country. The ultimate goal is to create a self-sufficient state to end the humanitarian crisis. However, it is easier said than done. Recreating Yemen between two divergent powers (Iran and Saudi Arabia) comes with lofty policies and deep, progressive diplomatic agendas, including negotiating with China.

The economic tensions between China and the US could prove Yemen to be a gambit state. China attempts to change the international order by building political and economic stability in developing countries without regard to social security or rights, thus increasing its credibility on the world stage with autocratic governments. The US needs to change its narrative on international development. The primary focus needs to be predicated on providing high-quality, sustained assistance to developing economies. The US should continue pushing for democratic principles while accepting the interests of opposing states, even if it doesn't match the American agenda.

The United States needs to conduct an unorthodox approach to Yemen. The order of Yemen is dependent on US relations with China and easing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Being a part of the rebuilding of Yemen will reinstate the US as a credible state and end the massive displacement of Yemeni civilians.

Current US efforts to militarily intervene in Yemen are further stalling peace efforts. Houthi rebels, who control the western part of Yemen, are further compelled to defend their territory from foreign intervention.

US policy towards foreign intervention in the Middle East has marked the birth of radical Islamic movements threatening efforts to sustain governments in the wake of a collapse. The Houthis are a part of this full-scale system. With the help of the United Nations and Gulf Cooperation Council, Yemeni negotiators established the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) concerning Yemen's governance in the wake of the Arab Spring. A Peace and National Partnership Agreement yielded to Houthi demands, but they reneged, eventually leading to the civil war.

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia undermine US diplomatic efforts in Yemen. Historical and ideological differences make the continuation of US brokerage near impossible. China can help continue brokering, having notably stronger relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Houthis. China acts as a strategic partner to the US in Yemen. This is due to the potential deterioration of China-Saudi and China-Iran relations if either country decides to act irrationally out of a peace agreement.

The advent of China and US diplomatic cooperation is gray as both powers strive for global hegemony. The US should press for a more aligned policy with China in that long-term economic development is essential to establishing a central government in Yemen. China’s negotiations with the Houthis about potential oil investment in Yemen show that the Houthis are legitimately recognized. China’s acknowledgment of the Houthis can help persuade the Houthis to reopen the port of Hodeidah for oil exports and humanitarian assistance to be more accessible to the population.

The United States and China should emphasize the use of bilateral economic rebuilding agreements to end the humanitarian crisis. The United States’s primary focus should be treating China not as an enemy but as a partner in Yemen. The two states must reflect on how their economic statecraft and military buildup further raise hostile tensions. The United States should work to limit zero-sum competition with China for the greater good of rebuilding Yemen.

Yemen needs the political and economic capability to rebuild itself. An agreement between the United States and China can economically revive and rebuild Yemen’s economy while continuing to ease tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The United States can also work to restore cooperation with China, limiting stalemating and finding common ground on other issues on the world stage.

The United States and China have different agendas and goals when it comes to rebuilding states. The United States should still strive to push for a democratic-based government in Yemen but focus more on economic rebuilding with China. The United States and China should reiterate the importance of Yemen’s sovereignty in promoting a prosperous and relatively self-sufficient state. Thus, coercive violations of Yemen’s sovereignty will have no toleration by the United States and China, who insist on promoting stability and prosperity in the region.


Bresnick, Sam, and Paul Haenle. “Why U.S.-China Relations Are Locked in a Stalemate.” Carnegie Endowment For International Peace, 21 Feb. 2022,

Fierestein, Gerald M. “Reviving Diplomacy: A New Strategy for the Yemen Conflict?” Atlantic Council, 18 Nov. 2022,

Foot, Rosemary. “China’s Challenge to the UN and Global Order.” Global Asia, June 2020,

Milliken, Emily. “What Is China Doing in Yemen?” Responsible Statecraft, Responsible Statecraft, 13 July 2023,

Simon, Steven, and Trita Parsi. “Take China’s Role as a ‘Peacemaker’ Seriously, Not Literally.” Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, 8 June 2023,

“Yemen Crisis.” UNICEF, 15 Sept. 2023,


bottom of page