06.03.2024 Author: Abbas Hashemite

Can the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) counter BRI?

Can the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) counter BRI?

Expanding Chinese influence across three continents through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has perturbed its regional and global rivals, India and the United States. The Western bloc – led by the United States – launched the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) at the G20 summit held in New Delhi on 10th September 2023. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, India, the European Union, Italy, the United States, France, and Germany are part of this project and have signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) for building this 4800 km long trade route. The main rationale behind the creation of this corridor is to provide an alternative trade route to the Suez Canal. For this purpose, the corridor envisages bolstering communication and transportation links between Asia and Europe.

The IMEC is anticipated to fulfill Europe’s ever-expanding energy and security needs. In addition, the project will help the United States to achieve its national security goals by increasing its sphere of influence. Two distinct corridors, the eastern corridor, and the north corridor – will be established under the proposed plan of the IMEC project. The former will provide a link between the Gulf states and India, while the latter will connect Europe to the Gulf. One of the most significant projects of the Northern Corridor is the UAE-Saudi Arabia-Amman railway project which will help in the transportation of goods and services, along with cementing digital connectivity, between India, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Europe.

India is vying for a greater role in regional and global affairs. Strengthening relations between India and Israel since 2014 under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi demonstrates the former’s interest in the Middle Eastern region. Moreover, it will also facilitate the transportation of containers and energy between Europe, the Gulf, and South Asia by reducing shipping time and cost. According to the estimates, this corridor will reduce the transit time and between India and Europe by 40 percent and 30 percent respectively. Another major ambition of this project is that it intends to serve as a conduit for the production and transportation of clean energy. The United States is attempting to elevate its stature through this project. By concentrating on low- and middle-income nations for infrastructural development, the United States seeks to rejuvenate its image in the global south. The project is also considered an expansion of the collective endeavors among the G7 members such as the PGII, which consists of the Global Gateway Strategy.

The IMEC would not only serve the strategic ambitions of the United States and India but will also help other member states to achieve their national interests. A successful implementation of the project would increase the geostrategic significance of the Arabian Gulf. The Gulf states will serve as the principal trade route between Europe, Africa, and Asia. It would also boost the region’s energy sales. Moreover, the IMEC corridor also aligns with the National Transport and Logistics Strategy of Saudi Arabia, as it will make the nation a global logistics hub. In addition, it would also increase the tourism and investment potential of the country.

Although this corridor is actually aimed at countering the rapidly rising Chinese influence around the globe, the IMEC is unlikely to pose any considerable threat to the BRI due to multiple factors. One of the key reasons is that not all the member states share the idea of countering Chinese influence over the globe. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are rapidly changing their foreign policy outlook. Both countries are seeking to establish cordial relations with all the countries to achieve their economic goals. They are also part of China’s BRI project and seek Chinese investment for their domestic infrastructural project. Furthermore, BRI, unlike the IMEC, is not only a theoretical project. The BRI was launched in 2013. Thus, it is already 10 years ahead of the proposed IMEC project, which allows it to possess a much larger reach and fame than the latter. China, since the launch of the BRI, has invested 1 trillion USD in this project, while the IMEC lacks clarity about the financing of the corridors. Moreover, around 200 agreements have been signed by China with 152 countries around the globe under the BRI project. As per estimate, 421000 jobs have been created and 40 million people have been dragged out of poverty due to the implementation of more than 3000 BRI projects. Unlike the United States, China is known for pursuing a peaceful foreign policy. The BRI aims to offer a win-win cooperation to member states. On the other hand, the United States, the key power behind the IMEC – has earned a hard image due to its dictatorial policies and military interventions in the global south. Therefore, it will be an uphill task to expand IMEC and include low-and middle-income Asian states in this project.

Furthermore, uncertainty over the success and viability of the IMEC looms large, as no mechanism has been defined for the financing of the project. Due to the hasty launching of the IMEC project to counter the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor at the regional level and the BRI at the global level, no official cost estimates and feasibility reports of the project have been released as of now. The Israeli genocide in Gaza is also one of the key impediments to this project. Israel’s Haifa port serves as a key point in the Maritime route between Europe and the Middle East. However, public rage in the Gulf states and the Middle East against Israel makes it an arduous task for the UAE and KSA to be a part of the project which includes Israel shortly. On the other hand, China has explicitly supported the Palestinian people. The country has also mediated between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has added to the acceptability of China among the Muslim world and the global south at large. Thus, the idea of countering China’s rising influence through IMEC sounds unpragmatic at least for now.


Abbas Hashemite – is a political observer and research analyst for regional and global geopolitical issues. He is currently working as an independent researcher and journalist, exclusively for “New Eastern Outlook”.

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