Explained: The India-US Plan To Counter China’s Belt And Road Initiative


In a big diplomatic win for New Delhi, the US and EU have endorsed a new maritime and rail corridor linking India to the Middle East and the Mediterranean Sea, presenting a challenge to China’s economic influence in the region.

This initiative was officially introduced during the G20 summit in New Delhi, where leaders including US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met and affirmed their commitment to the project.

The proposed corridor would span the Arabian Sea from India to the United Arab Emirates, then traverse through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel before connecting to Europe.

Discussions regarding this endeavour have been ongoing among the involved nations for months, and it has now progressed to a more formal stage. While no binding financial commitments were made, the parties agreed to formulate an “action plan” over the next 60 days.

President Biden emphasised that this corridor would create “endless opportunities” for the participating countries, facilitating smoother trade, the export of clean energy, and the establishment of vital cable connections between communities. He also stated that it would contribute to a more stable and prosperous Middle East.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the project as historic, highlighting its potential to establish the most direct connection to date between India, the Arabian Gulf, and Europe. She emphasised its environmentally-friendly and digitally advanced nature, noting that the rail link could make trade between India and Europe 40 per cent faster.

For the US, this project could serve as a counterbalance to China’s expanding influence in the region, especially at a time when traditional US partners in the Arab world, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are deepening their ties with China, India, and other Asian powers.

The corridor’s passage through Jordan and Israel could also support the Biden administration’s efforts to build upon the recent normalisation of relations between Israel and several Arab states, including the UAE, as it encourages Saudi Arabia to follow suit and formalise ties.

While China is a factor in this initiative, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan clarified that it is not directly linked to the Israel-Saudi normalisation talks, as reported by the Financial Times. He emphasised that all participants are making a distinct bet that by collaborating on this issue and investing in regional integration, practical benefits will be realised.

The EU’s involvement in the agreement was negotiated during a visit by von der Leyen to Abu Dhabi, where she held discussions with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. This collaboration is a central part of the EU’s strategy to strengthen trade and investment ties with Gulf countries, particularly in response to Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.

Both Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil exporter, and the UAE, the Middle East’s primary financial hub, are striving to position themselves as crucial logistics and trade hubs bridging the east and west.

Historically, large-scale cross-border infrastructure projects in the Arab world have faced significant challenges, including a planned 2,117-km rail network connecting the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Despite over a decade passing since its inception, it remains only partially constructed.

Furthermore, on the sidelines of the summit, the EU and US announced a separate initiative for a trans-African corridor between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, and Angola, with the aim of enhancing trade in raw materials, including copper.