(Bloomberg) — The US said it plans to sign a joint infrastructure plan with India, Middle Eastern countries and the European Union aimed at connecting them via a network of railways and sea routes, a development that comes as China builds its influence across the energy-rich region.
The US has been quietly holding talks on the project with India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. It’s intended to link Middle Eastern countries by rail and to India through shipping lanes from ports in the region, extending on to Europe.
The project will integrate railway lines and port connections from India to Europe, across UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel, leading to a faster transit of goods, a European Commission official said separately. It will develop energy infrastructure and enable the production and transport of green hydrogen to all partner countries. The plan includes enhancing telecommunications and data transfers with a new undersea cable connecting the region.
Leaders will also launch a trans-African corridor to improve transport connections between the Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the so-called “Copper Belt” in Zambia to Lobito port in Angola, the European Commission official said. The US and the EU are backing this project.
The Middle East plan is more than just an infrastructure project, US Deputy National Security Adviser Jonathan Finer told reporters Saturday in New Delhi on the first day of the Group of 20 summit, without giving a timeline for its completion.
“We have an approach to the Middle East that we had been implementing since the very first day of this administration, that is focused on turning the temperature down, on de-escalating the conflicts that have been underway in some cases for many years,” he said, describing the region as historically often a “net exporter of turbulence and insecurity.”
US, India and Gulf States Pushing Ahead With Plans for Rail Deal
Finer dismissed the idea the project was about countering Chinese influence in emerging markets. But US allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been moving closer to Beijing as they seek to strengthen ties with fast-growing economies to the east.
The corridor “fills a damaging global gap and enables greater prosperity and better connectivity for key regions around the world,” said Finer. The project will allow countries involved to play a key role in the “global connective tissue of commerce, of digital communications, of energy.”
The rail link will increase the speed of trade between India and Europe by 40%, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected to say later Saturday when announcing the plans.
Last month, Saudi Arabia and the UAE said they were joining the BRICS group of emerging-market nations after China led a push to open up membership of the bloc that was eventually backed by India.
The US and the EU have in recent years sought to counter President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has financed hundreds of billions of dollars worth of infrastructure in emerging markets. China has also boosted ties with the Middle East, helping to broker a detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran earlier this year.
(Adds context in third and final paragraphs.)