The United States, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the European Union and other G20 partners have announced a new initiative to enhance connectivity in the Middle East and South Asia, by developing a rail and ports network that would link the regions and facilitate trade, energy and data flows . The initiative, dubbed the Middle East-South Asia Connectivity Partnership (MESAC), was unveiled on Saturday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi, as a counterweight to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that has expanded Beijing’s influence across Asia, Africa and Europe .
The MESAC aims to connect Middle East countries by railway and connect them to India by port, helping the flow of commerce, energy and data from the Gulf to Europe . The project would also benefit low and middle-income countries in the region by creating jobs, enhancing infrastructure and fostering regional cooperation . A memorandum of understanding for the deal was signed by the participating countries, with the support of multilateral development banks such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank .
A strategic move to strengthen ties with India and the Middle East
The launch of the MESAC is seen as a strategic move by the US and its allies to strengthen their ties with India and the Middle East, two regions that are vital for global stability and security. The initiative comes amid US efforts to forge a broader diplomatic deal in the Middle East that would have Saudi Arabia recognize Israel, following the historic normalization agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan last year . The US also hopes to engage Iran in talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal that was abandoned by former President Donald Trump .
For India, the MESAC offers an opportunity to deepen its economic and strategic partnership with the Middle East, which is its largest source of energy imports and a key destination for its exports and remittances. India has also been wary of China’s growing presence and influence in its neighborhood, especially in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, where Beijing has invested heavily in infrastructure projects under the BRI . The MESAC would help India diversify its trade routes and enhance its regional connectivity.
A challenge to China’s Belt and Road Initiative
The MESAC is also seen as a challenge to China’s BRI, which has been criticized by many countries for creating debt traps, environmental risks and political interference. The BRI is a massive global infrastructure project that aims to connect China with more than 60 countries across Asia, Europe and Africa through roads, railways, ports, pipelines and other projects . China has invested billions of dollars in the BRI since its launch in 2013, but has also faced resistance and backlash from some of its partners over issues such as transparency, sustainability and sovereignty .
The US and its allies have been trying to offer an alternative to the BRI by promoting their own vision of high-quality infrastructure development that respects international standards and norms. The MESAC is part of this effort, along with other initiatives such as the Blue Dot Network that certifies infrastructure projects based on criteria such as governance, social impact and environmental protection , and the Build Back Better World (B3W) that pledges to mobilize hundreds of billions of dollars for infrastructure investment in low- and middle-income countries .