By Samir Saran and Gautam Chikermane
India, that is Bharat, are a people that want to deliver, achieve, and succeed. They are determined to correct mistakes of the past, even as they aspire for a better future. They are at ease doing this in the public glare and under immense scrutiny. We witnessed this most recently when Chandrayaan–3 delivered the Vikram Lander to the lunar south pole. The Indian people were hungry for this outcome. This event was a journey. Following the crash landing of the earlier lander in 2019, Indian scientists had gone back to the drawing board, analysed what went wrong, fixed what was needed, and then in a live televised demonstration of scientific temperament, landed on the moon. The rarest and fastest of turnarounds at this scale indeed.
The G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Summit was a similar endeavour but in the geopolitical domain. The sheer number of ‘wins’ that the Indian leadership secured in the past 24 hours is astounding. From securing a declaration that was accepted by all in a world that can’t agree on anything, to bilateral and plurilateral orchestrations that further national interest, Bharat, it seems, wants it all. As per International Monetary Fund estimates, the country will contribute 15 percent to global growth this year and will be the main engine of prosperity for all in the coming decade. It has a duty to its people; and it has an obligation to all of humanity.
In the jigsaw of New Delhi’s G20 Leaders’ Declaration and associated happenings lies a piece that will shape and script the emerging new world order. The Memorandum of Understanding on the Principles of an India–Middle East–Europe Economic Corridor (IMEEC) offers a model that stimulates economic development and growth through new connectivity corridors that will integrate two continents (Asia and Europe). The sovereign participants to this venture are Saudi Arabia, the European Union (EU), India, United Arab Emirates (UAE), France, Germany, Italy, and the United States (US). The combined GDP of IMEEC stands at US$47 trillion, or almost half the world’s GDP—an incredible growth armada for the world.
The IMEEC recognises the need for global connectivity and the creation of new supply chains, and will deliver it through the creation of two corridors. The Eastern corridor will connect India to the Arabian Gulf, while the Northern corridor will bind the Arabian Gulf to Europe. The tools of this connectivity include a railway arm that “will provide a reliable and cost-effective cross-border ship-to-rail transit network to supplement existing maritime and road transport routes—enabling goods and services to transit to, from, and between India, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Europe.” The days of standalone infrastructure projects are gone. Alongside the rail network, we will see investments in electricity cables, digital networks, and pipelines for clean hydrogen. This represents a new model of global interconnectedness and a new ethic for globalisation itself. This is neither an ideological grouping, nor a security alliance. This is an aggregation that comes together to build a better future for all who reside here.
For those tracking geopolitics, this is also a response to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s far more ambitious project—the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which, until recently, had seen better days. His model was premised to expand China’s commercial footprint by offering to build infrastructure that connected the mainland to Europe. The infrastructure would be built by Chinese companies with Chinese labour; it would be funded by Chinese banks at arbitrary rates of interest; and it would mostly serve the political and economic interests of Beijing. China seduced nations such as Sri Lanka and Montenegro into its strategic embrace by putting money on the table when others were loathe to. When countries grabbed the money—the only offer on the table—they found themselves trapped in debt and their economies on the verge of ruin. For some years, the BRI had begun to smell bad and, yet, a lack of alternatives kept China’s casino capitalism in business. A casino where the house always wins.
Unsurprisingly, the creation of an alternative connectivity infrastructure, through the IMEEC, counters the BRI, both strategically and commercially. Working collectively as equal partners, rather than through an imperial format devised in the court of Emperor Xi, is one major difference between BRI and IMEEC. Although the details are still to be worked out, it seems that each country will build its own infrastructure, connected to others under harmonised technical, design, financing, legal, and regulatory standards. The role of the US has also changed. From the sole superpower that shaped globalisation in the 20th century, Uncle Sam, it seems, has realised that partnerships with those best placed to deliver in specific geographies is the only way ahead.
IMEEC was an answer waiting for the right question. Although China identified the right query and got working on it first, it made fatal mistakes. Xi was in too much of a hurry and paid scant respect to territory, sovereignty, and sustainability. Team IMEEC now needs to take a leaf out of the book of the Indian Space Research Organisation. Go to the drawing board and see all the pitfalls that dampened the progress of BRI. Devise a scheme that works in this century and with the politics of our times. Insulate global partnerships from right wing and woke extremes and, thereafter, make a proposition that works for all people.
The vacuum to serve the aspirations of the next 7 billion can be filled and catered to by IMEEC in this region. Going forward, expect the rise of such plurilateral models across other geographies. An India, Middle East and Africa Trade and Connectivity Corridor is a no-brainer. Similarly, connectivity bridges to Africa and then to South America will be new-age projects that will connect the food and fuel from these geographies to the world. While Xi may have placed the chess board on the 21st century geopolitical table, other comers may be able to position the pieces better. That will require effort and commitment, and the US and EU will have to shed their inertia and self-obsession.
Polite conversations among diplomats will call this de-risking from China or even attempts to fashion resilient supply chains. To us, the authors, this is the first step towards resizing the engagement with and dependency on a national regime gone rogue under Xi Jinping, and the Chinese Communist Party he leads. This is what IMEEC is really about.
About the authors:
- Samir Saran is President at the Observer Research Foundation.
- Gautam Chikermane is Vice President at the Observer Research Foundation.
Source: This article was published by Observer Research Foundation