India-Middle East and Europe Economic Corridor

by Haydar Oruç

A surprise announcement was made at the 2023 summit of the G20 hosted by India on September 9-10. According to the announcement, it was decided to establish an economic corridor extending from India to the Middle East and from there to Europe via sea and railways.

The partners of the project, which is called the “India-Middle East and Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC)”, were announced as the US, India, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Greece, Italy, France, Germany, Germany and the EU.

In fact, it was expected that this or a similar project would be realized due to the recent U.S. interest in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. However, in order to prevent possible infiltration, the U.S. administration has been justifying its activism in the region in recent months as a new peace treaty that would normalize Israel and Saudi Arabia. In fact, National Security Advisor Jack Sullivan and Brett McGurk, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, who frequently visited Saudi Arabia and Israel, were said to be scouting the ground for a possible defense and security agreement with Saudi Arabia.

The fact that the project was launched at the New Delhi summit, which was not attended by the leaders of Russia and China, members of the G20, is not a coincidence, but rather a message to these two countries. Otherwise, the announcement could have been made on another platform, such as when the United States recently hosted the leaders of Japan and South Korea at Camp David and announced the establishment of a new initiative called the “Trilateral Indo-Pacific Dialogue”. However, this announcement was interpreted as a show of strength and a challenge, especially in India, which has problems with China and is seen as the future star of the region.

It is understood that this new project is designed to create an alternative to China’s Belt and Road initiative, which China announced in 2013 and has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in since then, with the aim of reducing China’s influence in the region and, if possible, breaking it completely. This intention can be seen clearly and unambiguously when we look at the announced route of the project.

The southern corridor of the Belt and Road initiative runs from Southeast Asia to Dubai, from Dubai one branch crosses the Persian Gulf to Basra, and the other branch goes around the south of the Arabian Peninsula and reaches the Israeli port of Haifa via the Red Sea. From Haifa, it again reaches the Greek port of Piraeus by sea, from where it connects to the interior of Europe.

The new corridor bypasses the Red Sea crossing, crosses the Dubai-Riyadh and Jordan lines by rail and reaches the Israeli port of Haifa. It then connects by sea to the port of Piraeus, from where it moves towards the interior of Europe.

In other words, China’s partners in the Belt and Road initiative, such as the UAE, Israel and Greece, and Saudi Arabia, with which it has recently become extremely close, are designed to be removed from Chinese influence and to be included in this new project to be led by the US. In the meantime, countries like Turkey and Iran, which are in the middle belt of the Belt and Road initiative and which have problems with the U.S. and the West in general, are being left out of the loop.

It is also obvious that the railway line that crosses the Arabian Peninsula and reaches the Mediterranean Sea is an alternative to the Development Road Project planned between Turkey and Iraq, and that Turkey and Iraq will suffer economically if it is realized.

According to the MoU of the project announced by the White House, the project partners have committed to develop and announce the action plan with timelines within the next 60 days. It was even stated that this would be done very quickly and that all participants were highly committed to the project’s implementation as soon as possible.

It is worth mentioning the objectives of the project by the way. It is claimed that this corridor will ensure the security of regional supply chains, increase efficiency, reduce costs, contribute to employment by improving economic cooperation, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and ensure economic and trade integration between Asia-Middle East and Europe. In addition, new electricity and internet cables will be laid along the route, green hydrogen exports will be made possible, facilitating access to clean energy and increasing digital cooperation.

Although it is unclear how much chance this new corridor will have against China’s Belt and Road initiative, which has been announced 10 years ago and during this time many investments have been made, or even whether it will be realized, one thing is certain: the US is now putting India forward against China, which it once supported in a similar way against Russia.

However, India has so far tried to stay out of this polarization in line with its policy of non-alignment. However, just as countries such as Sweden and Finland have abandoned their neutrality and non-alignment policies in the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine war in favor of NATO, India seems to have abandoned its policy of neutrality and turned towards the United States.

Another interesting aspect of this new economic corridor is that Saudi Arabia and Israel, which do not officially recognize each other, are project partners and have even approved a railway connecting the two countries. It is not known whether this will speed up the process of normalization between the two countries, but what is certain is that the U.S. is trying to put all the fruits in the same basket.

In other words, by developing an alternative to the global supply chain project, China’s growing influence in the region will be broken and its economic growth will be hindered, and by normalizing Israel and Saudi Arabia, the US will be able to restore its old order in the region by drawing Saudi Arabia, which has become closer to China and Iran, back to its side. It will also force India, which has so far taken care to remain neutral, to make a choice by citing the rising Chinese threat, and will narrow China’s axis while expanding its own.

How will China react to this new economic corridor? Will it perceive it as a mere competition and go its own way, or will it take the US challenge head on?

In any case, the coming days will be troubling for China. Either it will multiply its fronts to confront the United States; it will end its relative neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine war and openly support Russia; it will harden its stance on Taiwan and force the United States to intervene, sparking the inevitable hot confrontation; or it will realize that it cannot win at the end of this rivalry, step back and leave the field to the United States and be content with what it has.

We will wait and see.

This article was originally published in Diriliş Postası on 12 September 2023 in Turkish.

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