Navigating the Complexities of India-Middle East – Europe Economic Corridor

by Tayyaba Khurshid

The G-20 summit, presided over by the Indian leadership this year, saw the participation of the heads of state from 20 prominent nations. A significant development that came at the end of G-20 Summit was the Memorandum of Understanding signed between leaders of the European Union, France, Germany, India, Italy, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the US to develop a new economic corridor named as India –Middle East Europe Economic Corridor. The announcement of corridor has been a significant development announced at the G-20 event on the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. The corridor aims to enhance the economic development through connectivity and economic integration across continents leading to sustainable economic development of various regions under one platform.

What is the Corridor about?

The new economic corridor as per MOU will usher a new era of connectivity through railway and ports linking Asia with Middle East and then Europe. Hence, it’s the combination of two corridors -the east corridor and west corridor. East Corridor will connect India to the Arabian Gulf and the North Corridor will connect the Gulf to Europe. The partners of corridor aim to connect the commercial hub of these three regions thereby facilitating economic integration via short routes leading to export of goods and services across regions. It will not only facilitate the development and export of clean energy, lay undersea cables and link energy grids and telecommunication lines to expand reliable access to electricity, but as per plan it will also enable innovation of advanced clean energy technology and connect communities to secure and stable Internet. It will drive existing trade and manufacturing and strengthen food security and supply chains. Unlocking new investments from partners including private sector, the project aims to create quality jobs for people of these regions.

Complexity of Project:

There has been various viewpoints regarding the feasibility and practicality of the project. While the partner states have called it a landmark project that will usher a new era of connectivity. Many International experts also view it as an alternative route to China’s BRI. And others also see another debate of clash of corridors in the contemporary politics. While the apprehensions can be true as United States and its allies have always been vocal against BRI and its flagship project and the alternative corridor aims to challenge the regional connectivity it offers.

According to Hussein Askery, the corridor pushed by US is another “geo-political empty-shell project’. Through BRI, China has already been working in Middle East, Europe and Africa and has plugged in huge investments. The practical manifestation of BRI can be seen in running of Piraeus Port by China, Building railways to Serbia and Hungary, Haifa port and other projects like building Saudi-Land Bridge project, Emirates rail project and various ports in UAE and Saudi-Arabia. Hence, the new investments poured in the new economic corridor cannot take place without integration into BRI.

Moreover, The West under the leadership of US had also proposed other alternatives like Build Back better World (B3W) and North South Corridor yet their practical implementation has just been a dream. The memorandum inked in New Delhi is today only a proclamation of purpose. And it does not constitute rights or responsibilities under international law on its own, which implies that no partner is currently obligated to take action towards implementing the IMEC. Much relies on the IMEC member states goals and the amount of money they are willing or able to dedicate to this big endeavor. As in case of BRI, China has been willing to pour a lot of money to make the dream a reality and invested heavily into various regions causing economic integration along with development. Moreover, China model of economic development is that of connectivity and development without interfering into the internal matters of other states unlike US.

US and India has opposed China’s BRI initiative since its inception in 2013 and although the BRI route provides connectivity to these regions of Asia, Middle East, Europe and Africa already, India and US has not been willing to embrace and join the project. Even recently during the SCO summit, India clearly opposed the project. The cost of implementation of new Corridor is more than embracing BRI which is already a well-established connectivity route and has delivered results in last 10 years. The mere opposition of US and India of China’s BRI and presenting new alternatives seem only a geo-political contestation and not intent of development and connectivity.  The US has invested 300 million dollars through strategic Competition Act 2021, which aims to create narrative building in other states through financing media and spreading the narrative against China’s BRI and the propaganda of debt-trap.

BRI already envisions connecting various regions via land and sea route networks rebuilding the old silk trade route. More than 150 countries and cooperation partners in a wide range of areas have joined the initiative, which has delivered tangible benefits to the people of participating countries. Hence, the new economic corridor seems a mere geo-political tool of US in its containment strategy towards China. Moreover, if the new project aims just to create a trade route shipping goods between India and Europe, then a route already exist through Suez Canal. The members didn’t invited Jordan who will be a key player in this route as it can provide land-bridge between Gulf and Mediterranean. Moreover, the route seems to be more expensive as one calculate the cost of such project because development of such route, then maintenance, loading unloading of goods and services at various linking points of land and sea connectivity and the high cost of rail freight makes the decision more irrational.

The current war between Israel and Ghaza has deteriorated the security situation in Middle-East and the diplomatic breakthrough expected between Israel and Saudi-Arabia has been derailed which adds more complexity into the implementation of this project. The major stake holders of this initiative Saudi Arabia and UAE have to revise their relations amidst growing tensions and Crisis Escalation in Middle East.

In a nutshell, while the future will unfold the dynamics associated with this project and   implementation of the project, given the geo-politics at play and history of such initiatives backed by US like B3W , this seems a mere verbal announcement. The world leaders should realize that instead of alternatives they should join China and use the successful BRI as a modus operandi to promote real economic development and growth in the underdeveloped countries.



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