The United States and European Union have backed the establishment of a new landmark transport route linking India to the Middle East and the Mediterranean, in an apparent Western attempt to counter China’s global ambitions.
On the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi today, a memorandum of understanding was agreed to establish ship and rail corridor stretching from India across the Arabian Sea to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), across Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel, then to Europe.
The announcement comes after months of talks behind the scenes between all countries involved, including leaders such as US president Joe Biden, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.The proposed corridor would reportedly include a new undersea cable and energy transport infrastructure. Although no binding financial commitments were struck, the countries and parties involved in the MoU agreed to come up with an “action plan” over the next 60 days.
The plan has been praised by the EU, with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen saying at its launch that it is “nothing less than historic. It will be the most direct connection to date between India, the Arabian Gulf and Europe”. She praised it as “a green and digital bridge across continents and civilisations”, with the rail link set to make trade between India and Europe 40 per cent faster.
The US also expressed its approval of the planned project, with president Biden saying that the corridor would offer “endless opportunities” for the countries involved by “making it far easier to trade [and] export clean energy”, as well as to “lay cable that will connect communities”. Overall, it would “contribute to a more stable and prosperous Middle East”.
According to The Financial Times, a source briefed on the discussions said that the corridor could particularly cater to the Biden administration’s efforts to advance the trend of Arab states’ normalisation of relations with Israel, as it would further connect the UAE and Jordan to Israel and may serve to encourage Saudi Arabia to finally establish open ties with the occupation state.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, however, claimed that Washington’s support has no direct link to normalisation negotiations, and is “not a specific precursor to normalisation. It is not tied to the broader discussions that we are having on the normalisation issue”. He clarified that “It is a distinct bet that all of the participants and sponsors are making that by working together on this issue and by investing in regional integration of this kind, it will deliver practical benefits.”
Furthermore, the corridor may especially act as a counter to China’s ambitions and increasing influence in the Middle East, at a time when Western and American influence seems to be waning and giving way to Beijing. “China is one factor. The US is also trying to refocus attention on the region, to reassure traditional partners and to maintain influence”, the source said.