Given the year-long hype and perception build up ahead of the recently concluded Group of 20 meeting and a host of leaders who arrived in New Delhi, it was no surprise the photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, United States President Joe Biden and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud shaking hands caught the world’s attention.
True to the adage, "a picture is worth a thousand words", the image showed that Saudi Arabia, in spite of joining hands to work with China, has not relinquished its partnership with its traditional security provider — the United States of America.
It also showed that President Biden, despite his electoral rhetoric against Prince Salman, means business when it comes to protecting his country’s pivotal leadership role in the world. PM Modi, meanwhile, is seen to be playing the role of peacemaker. The occasion that marked this photograph is even more significant in global geopolitics.
During the meeting, India, the United States and Saudi Arabia announced a new global infrastructure project to build a rail and maritime corridor linking India, the Middle East region and Europe. The India- Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) will comprise two corridors — the east corridor connecting India to the Arabian Gulf and the northern corridor connecting the Arabian Gulf to Europe.
The project envisages goods being transported from India to the United Arab Emirates through a sea route, which will then be ferried on a rail line from Dubai, passing through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel. From Israel, the goods will take the maritime route to Italy. From Italy, they will pass through Germany to reach France.
The IMEC saddles across three regions — Indian Subcontinent (minus Pakistan), Middle East, and Europe having economies valued at $4.25 trillion, $5.08 trillion and $14 trillion. The combined economy of these three regions is $23.3 trillion, which is roughly a fourth of the global gross domestic product and creates enormous glue to bind them together.
Apart from the railway line, IMEC will also involve the laying of cable for electricity and digital connectivity, as well as pipe for clean hydrogen export. While officials of the participating countries plan to meet in the next 60 days to work out more details on timelines and financing, IMEC will serve as a challenger to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
With the announcement of IMEC and admission of African Union into the world’s richest club, the G20 under India’s presidency has successfully blocked China’s attempts to woo the Middle East and Africa to rally behind it to create a China-centred world order, which would be inimical to India’s national interest.
India could also use IMEC to woo the member countries of BIMSTEC to join the inter-regional connectivity initiative, which would then provide a seamless transport corridor passing through Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Italy, Germany and France.
If one goes into history, the route that IMEC envisages was used for thousands of years by Arab traders to source spices and sugar from India and sell them at a premium to Europeans. This is the spice route that brought sweetness to the world. Let’s hope the reactivation of the millennia-old spice route would make the world a sweeter place once again.