September 12, 2023
During the recently concluded G20 Summit in New Delhi, several countries—such as India, the United States, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, the UAE, France, Germany and Italy—signed an agreement to create something called the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). They did this because they are worried about the problems linked to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, which entail too much debt and concern many geopolitical issues.
Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, in an interview with NDTV, emphasized that the G20’s International Multimodal Connectivity Corridor (IMEC) will have significant distinctions from the Chinese BRI. He highlighted that, unlike the BRI, which has ensnared some nations into unsustainable debt, the G20 project aims at generating revenue and being financially viable. He also emphasized that the Prime Minister’s vision of inclusivity was a crucial aspect of this Corridor’s development.
Why India Opposes the BRI
India has consistently maintained its opposition to the BRI and has declined participation due to concerns related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which passes through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), a region India considers its sovereign territory under Pakistan’s illegal occupation. Italy, a significant participant in China’s BRI, recently withdrew its involvement from this arrangement.
The focal point of the BRI involves the expansion of Gwadar port in Pakistan and the extension of railway infrastructure in troubled Balochistan province. The CPEC is designed to link Kashgar, in China’s West Autonomous Region, to the port city through a 2,000-kilometre road and railway network. The initial intent was for this agreement to bring about significant change, turning the resource-rich—yet underdeveloped—region into a bustling commercial centre. Nonetheless, the province has not witnessed the progress anticipated, primarily due to internal disturbances in Balochistan, rather than shortcomings in the CPEC project itself.
What Exactly is the IMEC?
IMEC is a plan for a bunch of transportation routes—including railways and sea routes—to help Asia, the Arabian Gulf and Europe work together economically. It is part of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment (PGII), which wants to fund infrastructure projects in less developed countries by using public and private investments. It is India’s alternative to the BRI.
The PGII encounters such obstacles as the need to garner investments on the same scale as the BRI and gain political consensus among the G7 nations. There is uncertainty about private sector involvement. Nevertheless, the PGII’s strong focus on transparency, sustainable development and climate resilience could attract nations wary of potential issues with the BRI. While China is keen to adjust the BRI in response to criticism, the competition between the PGII and BRI could offer more choices for countries seeking infrastructure investments. This competition has the potential to enhance global infrastructure projects, benefiting all stakeholders and encouraging a drive towards higher-quality, more sustainable projects.
Coexistence of Initiatives
China has shown support for global infrastructure development initiatives and stressed the possibility of multiple initiatives coexisting. Chinese officials have voiced their disapproval of using infrastructure projects for geopolitical purposes, or to undermine the BRI. In response to criticisms, China has made adjustments to the BRI, placing a greater emphasis on sustainability (termed ‘Green BRI’) and reducing involvement in high-risk projects. From the Chinese viewpoint, there is recognition of competition among different infrastructure initiatives, but the focus remains on cooperation and the idea that diverse approaches can collectively contribute to global progress.
Different Routes: BRI & IMEC
The BRI comprises six key corridors: China-Mongolia-Russia, China–Central Asia–West Asia, China–Indochina Peninsula, China-Pakistan, Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar and the newly established Eurasian land bridge connecting Lianyungang, in Jiangsu province, to Rotterdam. The avowed primary objective of the BRI’s inception is to foster fresh avenues for mutual prosperity among nations by facilitating policy harmonization, enhancing connectivity, promoting unhindered trade, integrating financial systems and fostering interpersonal ties.
The IMEC, or the India-Arabian Gulf-Europe Corridor, will be composed of two separate routes: the eastern corridor, linking India to the Arabian Gulf, and the northern corridor, connecting the Arabian Gulf to Europe. This comprehensive initiative includes the development of a railway network designed to provide economical cross-border ship-to-rail transportation solutions. IMEC’s primary objectives are to enhance economic efficiency, minimize expenses, promote economic cohesion among participating countries and align with sustainable development goals.