US intends to oust China from Europe, replacing it with India

By Tural Heybatov

India, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, France, Italy, Germany, and the USA are planning to create a new transport route - the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor (IMEC) . A corresponding memorandum was signed at the G20 summit in September last year.

According to the project, Indian goods will be shipped from Mumbai to Jebel Ali in the UAE, then transported by train across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Israel, and from Haifa, goods will be shipped to European ports in Piraeus (Greece), Marseille (France), and Messina (Italy). European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen optimistically stated, "Today, this will be the most direct connection between India, the Persian Gulf, and Europe: rail communication will accelerate trade between India and Europe by 40 percent; with an electric cable and a pipeline for clean hydrogen to facilitate trade in clean energy between Asia, the Middle East, and Europe; and with a high-speed data transmission cable that will link some of the world's most innovative digital ecosystems and create business opportunities along the entire route."

The economic justification for these grand forecasts is not yet clear, so the more realistic reason for the deal appears to be its political aspect. IMEC is intended to compete with China's One Belt, One Road initiative , which concerns the United States. On the 10th anniversary of the Chinese project, the USA initiated a project that is expected to cause a headache for the Chinese. Many analysts now say that the USA is indeed behind the idea of the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor. In their view, it is part of Washington's efforts to control China's regional influence. The new logistical corridor from India to Europe is expected to change the global balance of power, reduce China's role, and push it to the back row in the world's geo-economic landscape.

During the G20 summit, significant pressure was exerted on Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Italy had maintained close economic ties with China, but as a result of this pressure, in December 2023, Italy withdrew from the One Belt, One Road initiative. The United States effectively achieved its goal of removing the only major EU country that was a member of the Chinese initiative.

Already in 2022, with the normalization of relations between Israel and the Persian Gulf countries underway, the idea of creating the so-called "Indo-Arab-Mediterranean Corridor" emerged. Following the Abraham Accords of 2020 between Israel and the UAE, India began exploring possibilities to reach Europe through the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Peace prevailed in the Strait of Hormuz, and it seemed to some that it would always be so. In September 2023, IMEC was added to this project. However, the situation in the region escalated dramatically on 7 October 2023, to the extent that only a pathological optimist could speak of de-escalation today.

In early 2023 , in response to a question about the conflict's impact on the project's implementation, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby stated that efforts to prepare the groundwork for IMEC are continuing. However, he explained that "since the project involves setting up logistical hubs and life support centres along the railway routes, as well as opportunities for infrastructure enhancement and employment, the process will take many years."

An informed source told Bloomberg that the conflict in the Middle East has shifted the focus away from discussions about IMEC. Moreover, there is a view that the project was ill-conceived from the start and would have collapsed anyway, even without the escalation in the Middle East.

It is surprising that all the nuances of the region were not analyzed before announcing the project. The United States' desire to suppress China through India and to quickly cut off its opportunities for cooperation with Europe has compelled Europeans to follow suit. The project looks great on paper, but when you try to implement it on real ground, it becomes clear that it is practically unfeasible. This grand plan of the United States and its supporters in the European Union has essentially crashed against a harsh reality. Seeing what is happening today in the Middle East, and how unyielding Israel is on the issue of Palestine, it is hard to expect Saudi Arabia to participate in the project. If economic interests do not prevail over political ones, there will be no railway.

The initiators of the IMEC project seemingly underestimated Turkey's role. After the IMEC memorandum was signed, President Erdogan announced plans to create a trade corridor that will serve as an alternative to the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor. Turkey does not intend to relinquish its historically central role in the transportation of goods between Europe and Asia. As Erdogan stated, "there can be no corridor without Turkey." Last year, it was reported that Ankara was in intensive negotiations with Iraq, the UAE, and Qatar for a transport route from the oil-rich Grand Faw Port in Basra, southern Iraq. Construction work in Basra has already begun, with the "Development Road" project estimated to cost $17 billion. The project includes the construction of railway and highway lines from Grand Faw Port through the cities of Diwaniya, Najaf, Karbala, Baghdad, and Mosul, then on to Turkey and further into Europe. A corresponding memorandum was signed earlier this year.

Analysts also question Egypt's non-participation in IMEC , given its control of the Suez Canal. According to the project plan, the canal is expected to be bypassed by a route from the Israeli port of Haifa to European countries via the Mediterranean Sea. The US initiative in Western projects envisions strengthening Israel's role, although Arab experts believe it would be more effective to implement the project through Lebanon or Syria. However, all these debates have now lost practical significance, as tensions in the region are not expected to ease any time soon.

Many factors indicate that IMEC is more of a political than an economic project. Not only because it will be very costly, but also because the countries along the route lack the necessary infrastructure. For instance, Greece has a very underdeveloped railway system, and in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, a railway would need to be built from scratch. Additionally, plans include an electric cable, a pipeline with green hydrogen, and other infrastructure. Furthermore, several years would only be spent on designing such an extensive route, and whether it will proceed to construction remains a significant question.

Meanwhile, China is already taking active steps, and the One Belt, One Road initiative is beginning to take a specific shape. China is actively investing in the modernization of the railways of Central Asian countries and has expressed readiness to participate in the creation of the Trans-Caspian transport route . Ultimately, the Middle Corridor is the only operational transport and logistics corridor that is not subject to sanctions, passes through safe regions, and is independent from the conflict in the Middle East. Europe may be making a mistake by following the US lead and ignoring its own interests.

Indeed, the most advantageous route for Europe was transit through Russian territory, but this is now impossible due to the war in Ukraine and sanctions, and the United States does not allow the European Union to open borders with Russia. The Northern Maritime Route proposed by Russia is unlikely to be feasible for the same reasons and cannot compete with southern sea transit, which is problematic due to Houthi activities in the Red Sea.

In this situation, the most realistic alternative, which already exists, appears to be the Middle Corridor. However, this is hampered by the United States' desire to remove China from the regional game, drawing Europeans into an adventure with a costly route through a traditionally unstable region.

The current geopolitical situation on the continent does not bode well for initiating new costly projects. The situation is very unstable and almost unpredictable. The fire in the Middle East is unlikely to die down quickly enough to design railways and plan transit in the near future. Even if a temporary lull occurs, after everything that has happened in the region since last October, the situation will never be reliably safe again. Constant security concerns for every metre of this route would be more expensive than even its creation.

However, the West wants to develop international routes that will be under its control. That means excluding China and Russia. Russia and China are trying to build their own plans, as are Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and everyone else the West does not want to include in the game. Meanwhile, geo-economic processes are developing according to their own logic, and critical logistical issues may soon lead to a serious crisis.


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