A multinational rail and shipping project linking India with the Middle East and Europe has been announced on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi in a step seen as a challenge to China’s economic ambitions in the region.
The corridor, which would include India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Israel and the European Union, would help boost trade, deliver energy resources and improve digital connectivity.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said the network reflected Biden’s vision for “far-reaching investments” that come from “effective American leadership” and a willingness to embrace other nations as partners.
He said the enhanced infrastructure would boost economic growth, help bring countries in the Middle East together and establish that region as a hub for economic activity instead of as a “source of challenge, conflict or crisis” as it has been in recent history.
Biden seeks to counter China’s Belt and Road push on global infrastructure by pitching Washington as an alternative partner and investor for developing countries at the G20 grouping.
“This is a big deal. This is a really big deal,” Biden said. At an event announcing, the US leader said the pact would unlock “endless opportunities” for clean energy, clean electricity, and laying cable to connect communities.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of summit host India said, “Today, as we embark upon such a big connectivity initiative, we are sowing the seeds for future generations to dream bigger.”
“Enhancing connectivity with all regions has been a key priority for India,” said Modi, speaking through a translator. “We believe that connectivity is a means to not only increase mutual trade between different countries but also increase mutual trust.”
Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu reporting from the Indian capital, New Delhi said officials are hailing the deal as a “game-changer”.
“They say it is an economic corridor designed to link India, the Middle East and Europe. It will consist of railway lines and shipping lines that will pass through the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel,” Yu said.
“Details are pretty scant at the moment. But US and European officials who were present during that announcement hailed it as a game-changer, as historic. They said it will cut trade time between India and Europe by 40 percent,” she added.
Yu said Beijing was not present during the announcement of the deal.
“Conspicuously absent from this announcement was China. It seems this is a clear plan to rival China’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure initiative that was announced back in 2013, which is designed to connect Asia, Africa and Europe. So, it seems that this is really a counterweight plan,” Yu added.
Saudi Arabia’s Al Ekhbariya TV quoted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as saying at the summit that the new project would include pipelines for electricity, hydrogen and railways and will contribute to international energy security.
The deal will benefit low- and middle-income countries in the region, and enable a critical role for the Middle East in global commerce, Jon Finer, the US deputy national security adviser, told reporters at the bloc’s annual summit in New Delhi.
It aims to link Middle East countries by railway and connect them to India by port, helping the flow of energy and trade from the Gulf to Europe, US officials have said, by cutting shipping times, costs and fuel use.
A memorandum of understanding for the deal was set to be signed by the European Union, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the US and other G20 partners.
“Linking these key regions, we think, is a huge opportunity,” said Finer. No immediate details of the value of the deal were available.
Radha Kumar, an independent analyst, said it is a “wonderful initiative” that will offer an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative
“China’s powers are increasing so rapidly that many countries feel the need to have alternatives,” she told Al Jazeera from New Delhi.
But she added that the new project would not necessarily undermine China’s global infrastructure project, which has its own independent existence.
“India was not part of the Belt and Road Initiative, so this initiative gives connectivity to India.” The move came amid US efforts for a broader diplomatic deal in the Middle East that would have Saudi Arabia recognise Israel.