New Delhi, Sep 11 (EFE).- India and Saudi Arabia Monday reaffirmed their commitment to establishing a multinational rail and shipping corridor that would connect South Asia with Europe through the Middle East, an ambitious project widely seen as a counterweight to China’s inter-continental infrastructure initiative, known as the New Silk Road.
The two sides gave fresh boost to the idea of the “India–Middle East–Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC)” at a bilateral meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS.
“Today we are working on future opportunities,” Salman said in televised opening remarks at the meeting in New Delhi.
“The economic corridor linking the Middle East, India, and Europe (…) requires that we work diligently to turn it into reality,” said the de-facto ruler of the kingdom.
Modi said they had already made “a historic start” to the transport initiative that “will not only connect the two countries, but also help provide economic growth and digital connectivity between Asia, West Asia and Europe.”
The prime minister told the prince that Saudi Arabia “is one of India’s most important strategic partners” and that the mutual cooperation between “the two biggest fast-emerging economies is critical for peace and stability in the entire region.”
The plan to establish the new rail and shipping corridor – expected to improve connectivity and inter-continental economic integration between Asia, the Arabian Gulf, and Europe – was unveiled on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi.
The participating nations, including Saudi Arabia, the European Union, India, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), France, Germany, Italy, and the United States, signed an agreement on the initiative on Saturday.
The corridor, which passes through Israel, is largely seen as a show of strength by US President Joe Biden’s administration to counter the influence of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or Silk Road, through which Beijing has funded billion-dollar infrastructure projects around the world over the past decade.
The Chinese infrastructure project has seen Beijing’s geopolitical and economic power grow across five continents.
China has also increased its political influence in the Middle East, and mediated peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran, helping them re-establish diplomatic relations.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who skipped the G20 meeting in India, plans to receive leaders from around the world in Beijing in October, including his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, for a forum on the BRI.
The Saudi prince had arrived in the Indian capital for the G20 Summit and stayed back for a bilateral meeting with Modi.
As the world’s Who’s Who rubbed shoulders for the summit in the Indian capital, President Biden too shook hands with MBS, the Saudi prince he once said would be turned into an “international pariah.”
A 2021 US intelligence report alleged that the prince had ordered the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
While campaigning for his White House bid in 2020, Biden had sharply criticized MBS for Khashoggi’s killing and threatened that if voted to power, his administration would make the Saudis “pay the price, and make them in fact the pariahs that they are.” EFE