A multinational rail and ports project to link India with the Middle East and Europe, which is being touted as a counter to China's Belt and Road infrastructure project (BRI), was established during the recent G20 summit in New Delhi.
India, the United States, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all signed on to the India–Middle East–Europe Economic Corridor project (IMEC).
According to the project documents, the IMEC is envisioned to consist of two separate corridors: an eastern corridor that connects India and the Arabian Gulf, and a northern corridor linking the Arabian Gulf and Europe. The goal is to be a counterweight to China's BRI, which has been criticized for setting debt traps and exerting the Chinese communist regime’s political influence on participating countries.
IMEC's goal is to establish a "reliable and cost-effective" ship-rail network between India, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Europe. The partner countries intend to lay electricity cables and digital cables along the railway line, as well as clean hydrogen pipelines, as announced.
IMEC to Counter China’s BRIThe region may not have enough trade volume to allow the new economic corridor and China's BRI to operate simultaneously, which puts the two in direct competition, analysts say.
The United States has played a leading role in the negotiations of establishing the IMEC to counter BRI, which has seen mounting debt hurt the economies of participating countries. The launch of the new economic corridor also marks Washington's return to the Middle East.
The IMEC “is nothing less than historic," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. "It will be the most direct connection to date between India, the Arabian Gulf, and Europe: with a rail link that will make trade between India and Europe 40 percent faster.”
The corridor puts India at the center of trade flows from Southeast Asia to the Middle East and Europe, which is a huge opportunity for India and the Middle East to accelerate economic development, and for Europe to diversify key supply chains away from China.
The project started with several secret meetings between India, the UAE, and the United States, with the full support of the Saudi crown prince, and was later joined by Italy, Germany, and France.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Italy have joined China’s BRI in previous years, and are now three founding members of the IMEC, while Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is seeking to withdraw from the BRI.
Although the BRI—Chinese communist leader Xi Jinping’s grand international project announced 10 years ago—was marketed by China as being focused on economics, over time, member nations increasingly realized it was a tool being used by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to reshape the world order, win over countries in the Global South, and export the CCP’s governance model.
"The BRI brings all aspects of manpower, resources, and equipment from China instead of using local ones, but takes local funding for its development," Zhong Zhidong, an assistant researcher at the National Defense Strategy and Resources Institute of the Taiwan Institute of National Defense and Security, told The Epoch Times. "It’s a form of economic exploitation [of host nations and their people]."
American economist Davy Wong note the difference in the two economic and political groups: The IMEC is composed of countries with European and U.S. influence at their core, while the BRI includes countries with relatively high political influence from Beijing.
"IMEC is more about the economic aspect, such as railway transportation, some tariff exemptions, etc. The BRI is more about direct project investment, such as digging mines and building some public facilities such as railways, docks, and airports, schools, hospitals, etc., and more direct investment in infrastructure construction,” Mr. Wong said.
“IMEC factors in that geopolitics and shared values and the legal system will take precedence over economic interests; the BRI is more about agreeing with Beijing’s political orientation. The BRI is Beijing’s export of its excess production capacity and capital to the world, as well as its influence in all aspects of diplomatic relations. So the BRI is more about the rise of Beijing’s influence; it wants to change the rules of the world."
Song Guocheng, a researcher at the International Relations Research Center of National Chengchi University, told The Epoch Times that he thinks the BRI is unsustainable. In terms of China’s investment, he says the initiative has slumped by more than two-thirds from its peak.
"There are two main reasons," Mr. Song told The Epoch Times. "One is that the ability of these recipient countries to repay their debts is relatively low. Because the CCP mainly wants to develop its own geopolitical influence, they invested in these countries. The other is that China’s current sluggish economy can no longer afford it.”