‘Revolutionary’, ‘US efforts lose steam’: What media in Middle East, China said on India-Saudi corridor

Indian media had pointed to three aspects: trade, normalisation of ties between Gulf and Israel, and counter to China.

WrittenBy:Aban Usmani
Date:
A memorandum of understanding has been signed for the corridor
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Meanwhile, the Middle East Monitor, a media watchdog and lobbying group, tried to add geopolitical perspectives.

“According to The Financial Times, a source briefed on the discussions said that the corridor could particularly cater to the Biden administration’s efforts to advance the trend of Arab states’ normalisation of relations with Israel, as it would further connect the UAE and Jordan to Israel and may serve to encourage Saudi Arabia to finally establish open ties with the occupation state.”

“US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, however, claimed that Washington’s support has no direct link to normalisation negotiations, and is ‘not a specific precursor to normalisation. It is not tied to the broader discussions that we are having on the normalisation issue’. He clarified that ‘it is a distinct bet that all of the participants and sponsors are making that by working together on this issue and by investing in regional integration of this kind, it will deliver practical benefits.’

Furthermore, the corridor may especially act as a counter to China’s ambitions and increasing influence in the Middle East, at a time when Western and American influence seems to be waning and giving way to Beijing.”

The Turkey-run Anadolu Agency also reported on the announcement. “While the signatory countries did not commit to a binding financial obligation, they agreed to prepare an action plan for the establishment of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor within two months.”

“While the corridor is seen as a challenge to China's economic influence in the region, it is also expected to bring significant strategic and economic benefits to India.”

Iran Daily, run by Iran’s official news agency, carried the news about the announcement pertaining to two regional rivals – Saudi Arabia and Israel – as a single column on its international page, which featured the Morocco earthquake as the lead report.

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Most Iranian news outlets, just like Egyptian news outlets, did not report on the corridor, which has ostensibly left the two countries out.

“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,” said Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, who was reporting from Delhi.

Meanwhile, in Jordan, it was only Ammon News which had carried a report on the announcement at the time of publishing this report.

Prominent outlets in Israel reported on the announcement after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the move as the “biggest collaboration” which will change “the face of the Middle East”.

A Jerusalem Post headline said the corridor will link “Israel, Saudi Arabia”. The piece also claimed that the corridor could be part of the One Israel project.

“Earlier this month, Netanyahu spoke about an energy corridor that would link Europe to Israel and onward to Saudi Arabia and Asia when he visited Cyprus to hold a trilateral meeting with his Cypriot and Greek counterparts. In July, Netanyahu said that the One Israel project – which would link Kiryat Shmona in the North with Eilat in the South via a high-speed train, was the opening leg of a larger railway project that in the future would connect Israel with Saudi Arabia.”

“Last week, Deputy Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk and US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf visited Saudi Arabia to discuss a pending security agreement between Riyadh and Washington.”

Israel Hayom reported on Netanyahu’s remarks, and so did the Times of Israel.

An opinion piece in Haaretz was headlined “Next to US anti-China campaign, Israel-Saudi normalisation is a secondary issue”.

“The construction of a rail and shipping corridor to rival China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, linking India with the Middle East and Europe, under American sponsorship and support, appears – at least to its American partners – to be the most revolutionary strategic move of the first half of the 21st century.”

Meanwhile, an Arab News analysis, published before the announcement, had pointed to India’s “competition” with China in the context of its Middle Eastern engagements. It was headlined “why India’s G20 leaders’ summit has an unprecedented Middle Eastern presence”.

“This time around, under India’s presidency, non-member Arab countries have enjoyed greater representation than ever, with three of them joining ministerial, sherpa and working group meetings since the beginning of the year. They will also be part of the leaders’ summit on Saturday and Sunday. India has extended invitations to nine non-member countries, including Egypt, Oman and the UAE.”

“India’s ties with the Middle East are particularly strong with Saudi Arabia, but Delhi’s decision to engage its three other major Middle Eastern partners shows how important it deems the relationship, and not only to India’s foreign policy. Relations, especially with Gulf Cooperation Council countries, have been a priority for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration for the past nine years,” it read.

“There is also a sense of competition with India’s regional rival, China, as relations between Delhi and Beijing have been increasingly tense, not only over their border dispute, which has recently seen an outbreak of violence, but also in attempts to position themselves as superpowers. The G20 platform has given India an opportunity to significantly increase its Middle Eastern engagements vis-a-vis China.”

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Criticism in the Chinese press

The Chinese press has been sceptical of the announcement under India’s G20 presidency.

“While the US has little hope of competing head to head with the BRI, it has touted its development aid, multilateral financing and the high standards it brings to projects. China’s investment in its 148-country BRI was estimated at around US$70 billion in 2022 alone, with a similar amount spent in 2021,” read an analysis in the South China Morning Post of the achievements of the Delhi G20.

“Biden spent time in New Delhi meeting with other world leaders without having to compete for attention with Xi or Putin, even as host India – a key member along with Japan and Australia of the Quad grouping – used its presidency to position itself as the voice of the ‘Global South’, a status China has similarly vied for.”

“The G20 formally added the 55-member state African Union to its ranks on Saturday. China is the continent’s largest trading partner and one of its largest lenders, while Russia is its leading arms provider.”

The Chinese Community Party outlet Global Times was more scathing, saying that Chinese experts express doubts about the corridor plan’s “credibility and feasibility as it is not the first time that Washington has initiated pledges for other countries and regions, only for those initiatives to lose momentum”.

“The idea of the network initially emerged at the I2U2 Business Forum, launched in 2021 by the US, India, Israel and the UAE to discuss infrastructure projects in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia later joined the discussion,” it said, suggesting that this project is still in the planning stage after two years.

“The Biden administration's Middle East infrastructure plan is an apparent effort to counter the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year with numerous fruitful projects across various countries and regions.”

Another Global Times editorial had earlier blamed the US for making the G20 as place for geopolitical competition.

“New Delhi has repeatedly said that the forum is not a place for geopolitical competition. For instance, on the India-China conflict, which the US and the West have been hyping up, Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said, ‘I would not at all see it the way you would suggest,’ when recently asked about this topic by some media.”

“However, this is not the outcome that the US and the West want. They have shown a tendency of wanting to tear the G20 apart since last year's summit in Bali, Indonesia. This year, they have intensified their efforts to castrate the G20. A report in The New York Times Chinese edition asked an inflammatory question, ‘Does the world still need the G20?’”

“Apart from dividing the Global North and South as well as inciting confrontation between West and East, US and Western public opinion has shown at least two major new characteristics for the upcoming G20 summit. First, they are keeping an eye on the BRICS mechanism after its expansion and hyping up its ‘conflicts’ with the G20 platform. Second, they try to provoke China-India conflicts by using India’s presidency to hype the competition between the dragon and the elephant.”

A food corridor, and ‘little traction’ 

Last year, an article published by the Middle East Institute, an American think tank, had claimed that the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and India are creating an India-Middle East Food Corridor. 

“At the July 14, 2022, ‘I2U2’ summit, the first convening of the heads of government of India, Israel, the UAE, and the United States, the food corridor featured prominently, leading to the erroneous impression that the corridor is a geo-economic contrivance of a US-sponsored “Middle East Quad.” The India-Middle East Food Corridor is neither anti-China nor a new initiative. In fact, the corridor had been evolving without any US involvement at all,” it claimed.

“The corridor initiative assumed its shape when the Dubai-based real estate development giant Emaar Group took on the task in September 2019 of coordinating the $7 billion of investments in the corridor by various Emirati entities. Approximately 70% of these funds were earmarked for investment in mega-food parks in various Indian cities. The $2 billion Emirati investment in food parks announced in the 2022 I2U2 joint statement appears to be a repackaging of part of the 2019 initiative. The remainder of the initiative’s $7 billion was reserved for contract farming, sourcing agricultural commodities, and related infrastructure. As part of the 2019 initiative, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce started helping coordinate Emirati and Indian entities in the creation of a dedicated logistics infrastructure for the food corridor.”

However, an Associated Press report said the Biden White House had started “having conversations” with regional partners about the concept of an India-Middle East-Europe trade corridor in January this year.

Meanwhile, a Financial Times piece pointed out that both “Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, and the UAE, the Middle East’s dominant finance centre, are seeking to project themselves as key logistics and trade hubs between east and west”.

“However, ambitious cross-border infrastructure projects in the Arab world have historically gained little traction, including a planned 2,117-km rail network connecting the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain. It is still only part built more than a decade after its inception.”

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