New Delhi: Aiming to rival China’s Belt and Road initiative, US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired the unveiling of an ambitious plan to build a rail and shipping link to connect India with West Asia and Europe.
On the sidelines of the G-20 summit, Biden and Modi on Saturday, September 9, chaired the signing of a memorandum of understanding on the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor. This signing was also witnessed by the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the European Union, Italy, France and Germany.
Charting a journey of shared aspirations and dreams, the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor promises to be a beacon of cooperation, innovation, and shared progress. As history unfolds, may this corridor be a testament to human endeavour and unity across continents. pic.twitter.com/vYBNo2oa5W
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 9, 2023
The Indian PM said connectivity projects should respect territorial integrity and promote financial viability, rather than adding to the debt burden of nations. He also stated that infrastructure connectivity projects should follow environmental rules.
The new initiative – first hinted at publicly in May 2023 after US national security adviser Jake Sullivan Doval met his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval as well as the NSAs of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in Riyadh – will consist of an east corridor connecting India with West Asia and a northern corridor from West Asia to Europe.
As per the timeline revealed by US officials, working groups will draw up a detailed plan with targets over the next two months. The plan for this year is to put in place detailed project reports which will expedite the setting up of funding and construction.
While no details of the cost of the project was provided per se, the Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman mentioned a figure of $20 billion in his speech.
The project includes a railway line in West Asia, which will also enable the laying of cable for electricity, internet and a pipeline for clean hydrogen. It will be linked to India and beyond through transhipment corridors.
“This is a big deal,” said Biden, as per AP. “This is a really big deal.”
There is at present no rail link from India to Europe, and not just because India-Pakistan relations are in the doldrums. Turkey has been trying to set up an Istanbul-t0-Islamabad rail link via Iran but the poor quality of the Zahedan-Quetta line means the project has languished. Turkey has no rail connectivity with Iraq either.
The IMEC hopes to bypass both Pakistan, which India won’t do business with, and Iran, with which the US will not engage, in favour of rail connectivity between Europe and the Persian Gulf states of the UAE and Saudi Arabia and perhaps even Israel, eventually. While direct shipment via sea from India to Europe will remain the preferred method for bulk goods and large volumes, a ship-cum-train route, once operational through the IMEC, may be useful for certain kinds of products.