Media reported earlier in the month that several countries will discuss an Arab-Mediterranean Corridor (AMC) during the 12th edition of the Sir Bani Yas Forum next month. According to the outlet, “The foreign ministers of India, Israeli, Egyptian, Cyprus, Greece and others are expected to meet in Dubai” during that time. The AMC is an ambitious initiative that Professor Michaël Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy and a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute, among his many other professional distinctions, wrote extensively about over the summer. His report was titled “India’s Arab-Mediterranean Corridor: A Paradigm Shift In Strategic Connectivity To Europe” and was published in August at the National University of Singapore’s Institute of South Asian Studies.
The AMC’s geo-economic consequences would be immense if this initiative ever enters into fruition. There are, of course, some logistical difficulties in dealing with before then, but the idea is conceptually sound. India has one of the world’s most promising economies and one of the largest markets, so it’s natural for it to pioneer connectivity with the EU. The South Asian state had previously focused such efforts on the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) with Iran, Azerbaijan, and Russia, but this project ran into difficulties due to New Delhi’s compliance with Washington’s unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Moreover, the present tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran might further stall the NSTC by making it politically unviable. This is especially the case since Azerbaijan supports Pakistan’s position on the Kashmir Conflict, which irks India.
India still retains excellent relations with Iran and could utilize a branch corridor of the NSTC through Armenia and Georgia to reach the EU via the Black Sea instead of through Russia like it initially planned to do. Nevertheless, the argument can be made that the AMC is more enticing for India since the Gulf Kingdoms, their Jordanian ally, and Israel have better and more stable economies than Iran. In addition, none of those is under American pressure, nor have they been economically isolated. Another important point is that they could add value along with the AMC and therefore lead to the creation of a multifunctional transregional economic corridor, something that Iran would have difficulty doing considering its economic troubles in spite of China’s reported promises of $400 billion worth of investment across the next quarter-century.
It’s impossible for India to economically compete with China in Iran, but it might have the edge over the People’s Republic when it comes to the transit states along with the AMC for simple geographic reasons. It’s much easier to carry out Indian-EU trade across the AMC than it is for the EU to trade with China across any land-based route. India wants to market itself as an alternative of sorts to China even though it can never fully replace the People’s Republic’s role in the global economy over the past few decades. Some EU countries also have political motivations to diversify their trade ties with China by expanding economic connectivity with India. This can be achieved through the AMC, especially since all those others whose territories it’ll transit through are also on good terms with the bloc.
If successful, then the AMC could become a serious economic force in Eurasia. It could also present an economic alternative to China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI). BRI’s primary corridors transit through Russia, Central Asia, Iran, and Pakistan are very close with China. HOWEVER, the AMC’s transit states pursue much more balanced policies between East (China) and West (EU/US), which makes them more politically appealing to some economic actors. Therefore, India could present the AMC as a form of “competitive connectivity” in Eurasia that pursues mutually beneficial and balanced outcomes for all stakeholders alongside BRI. Its grand strategic aim would be to give countries an alternative to BRI when it comes to East-West trade.
That objective aligns with American interests, which could see the US supporting India and its partners as they pioneer this new corridor. The AMC might even play a role in the US’ “Build Back Better World” (B3W) initiative, which aims to balance BRI. India could have an important part in this broader initiative, though it would need to be careful to ensure that this doesn’t come at the expense of its economic ties with China, which remain strong despite continued disagreements over their shared frontier. With or without any connection to the B3W, the AMC could theoretically give India some strategic economic leverage with China. This makes that project geopolitically important, though its stakeholders shouldn’t have any illusions about it ever replacing BRI. Rather, they should seek to make it complementary with China’s connectivity corridors in order to benefit all of Eurasia.