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IMEC: The Politics Behind the New Geopolitical Corridor That's Shaking Up Global Alliances

IMEC - Launching a geostrategic chess game, the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) led by the U.S. aims to redefine trade routes and political alliances. Amid tangled relationships and diverging interests, can Saudi Arabia balance its commitments between the new corridor and its existing ties with China and Russia?

By Sanjay Kapoor
New Update


At the recent G20 Summit in Delhi, one of the biggest takeaways was the announcement of the India Middle East Europe Corridor or the IMEC | Photo courtesy: @narendramodi | X

An important realisation for the U.S. and its allies has been that if they need to recapture lost influence in Europe, Africa, and Latin America, they must quickly conjure a counter to China's $1 trillion-dollar infrastructure enterprise, the Belt and Road Initiative. Ever since China's President Xi Jinping announced the BRI from Kazakhstan's capital in 2013, it has transformed China into a superpower with a footprint in more than 150 countries. 

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has seen China build roads, ports, and rail infrastructure in countries where none existed, while also rebuilding and reviving land routes between many countries. In the process, China has transferred billions of dollars to participating countries on different continents, thereby building equity and influence. In the last 10 years of its existence, China has faced opposition from the U.S. and many other countries that have issues with the way it allegedly entraps countries by giving funds to cash-strapped economies. Sri Lanka's bankruptcy has been given as a prime example of this flawed funding arrangement.

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Instances such as this blight the Belt and Road Initiative, giving legitimacy to the objections raised by the U.S. and India that the BRI's funding to recipient countries is opaque and encourages corrupt practices. Expectedly, the U.S., which endeavours to be the guardian of the rules-based order, shows discomfort with China's project and its funding. Seeing the efficacy of the BRI, the U.S. is obsessed with reining in China and wants to summon energy, ideas, and possibly finances to build something better that weans away those that may have been enticed by the Chinese project. Now they have something to crow about. Eight countries led by the United States—all belonging to the G20 group of countries—have decided to create an India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, or IMEC. This is a big vision.

Ambitious in conception, this geography-defying agreement, signed on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Delhi, is a land, sea, and railroad corridor with two components. First, a land-sea corridor that will link India to the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, and the second corridor that will join the Middle East to European countries, including Italy, France, and Germany, with railroads and ships. 

On the face of it, this corridor has two purposes: to challenge the BRI and to sever links between Europe and Russia by integrating parts of Europe with the Middle East and South Asia. However, the corridor is being read differently by U.S. allies like Turkey and Egypt, as it would contribute to shifting the traditional shipping lanes used for trading. The worst fears are being expressed by the owner of the Suez Canal, Egypt, which apprehends major losses as the new IMEC corridor proposes to bypass it and aims to cut shipping time by 40%. Similarly, Turkey is very upset with IMEC, with its President Recep Erdogan saying that there can be no corridor without his country.

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The IMEC is premised on changes that are conceived in the politics of the Middle East. The U.S., which is driving the economic corridor, is working toward a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Restoration of ties would require moving many pieces in this complex jigsaw puzzle of the region.

The most important question is how Israel, which has driven Palestinians into oblivion, will give them space and dignity. Will Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's aggressive right-wing following agree to any accommodation for the Palestinians? During his recent trip to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, the Israeli PM spoke trenchantly against Iran to an empty hall to shore up support among his followers back home. While promising good news on Saudi Arabia, he was visibly pleased; the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel has seemingly been sealed. Even Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, in a rare interview with Fox News, smilingly said that the two countries were close to an agreement. The biggest gainer would be the U.S., as President Joe Biden is desperate to showcase an agreement between two historically hostile countries—Saudi Arabia and Israel—that also takes into account the interests of the disenfranchised Palestinians.

The U.S. would have not just agreed to Saudi Arabia's demands for nuclear power but also would have accommodated its regional interests significantly. Ever since President Biden came to power, he has had strained relations with Saudi Arabia and its controversial prince, especially after promising to treat him like a "pariah" following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. The two leaders' handshake at the Delhi G20 summit was the product of considerable effort.

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IMEC, which makes Saudi Arabia its hub by linking with India on one hand and cutting through Jordan to reach Israel before heading toward Greece and France, coincidentally builds on recent engagements by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Besides fostering strong ties with Israel and its PM Netanyahu, the Indian PM has also successfully built ties with Saudi Arabia and its charismatic Prince. Additionally, he has made a point to travel to Greece and enjoys a good relationship with Italian leader Giorgia Meloni. Italy recently exited the BRI and will now join IMEC.

Despite Saudi Arabia giving the impression of being persuaded by the U.S., what remains unclear is the future of its warming relations with China and Russia. Last December, the Chinese brokered a sensational deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which could help Riyadh find a way out of its bloody war in Yemen with the Houthi tribals. The Saudis have also benefited from the Ukraine war, as Russia helped in keeping oil prices high and production low, contrary to U.S. requests, leading to an unprecedented windfall of $151 billion for Saudi energy company Aramco last year. The earnings from oil will help fund not only their future city Neom but also this corridor.

The big question remains: Can the Saudis navigate this U.S.-brokered arrangement without severing ties with China and Russia?


Sanjay Kapoor is a Senior Journalist based out of Delhi. He is a foreign policy specialist focused on India, its neighbourhood and West Asia. He is the Founder and Editor of Hardnews Magazine. He is a Member of the Editors Guild of India (EGI) and, until recently, served as the General Secretary of EGI.

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