IMEC Doesn’t Just Compete With CPEC But Arguably Surpasses It In All Respects
These neighboring countries’ fates couldn’t be more different: Pakistan is descending into instability, abject poverty, and isolation while India is rising as a beacon of stability in the hemisphere, continues lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and is the center of global attention.
The most geostrategically consequential outcome of the last G20 Summit was the “Memorandum of Understanding on the Principles of an India – Middle East – Europe Economic Corridor” (IMEC) between India, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, the EU as a whole, France, Germany, Italy, and the US. The envisaged rail route will also include parallel digital, electricity, and hydrogen corridors, which Jordan and Israel will participate in too. That’s already a big deal, but there’s even more to it as will now be explained.
The first point to make is that this proves that it was premature for some observers to previously conclude that the West is incapable of competing with China on major infrastructure projects. IMEC’s focus is on West Asia but it’s a multimodal transcontinental initiative that’ll likely involve tens of billions of dollars’ worth of investments from all parties by the time it’s completed. In scale, scope, and strategic impact, it easily rivals the Belt & Road Initiative’s (BRI) flagship China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
To elaborate, CPEC’s informal aim is to facilitate China’s access to the Indian Ocean Region via an overland shortcut through Pakistan that can’t be blocked by the US Navy in times of crisis like the Strait of Malacca chokepoint can. IMEC serves a similar such purpose for facilitating Indian-EU trade via an overland shortcut through West Asia that avoids the Suez Canal chokepoint which was infamously obstructed in 2021 after a shipping accident.
CPEC plans to add value along the route through multidimensional investments in Pakistan just like IMEC plans to add the same in a multitude of West Asian countries, but it’s here where the comparisons end. The Pakistani economy has performed much worse than the Gulf and Levantine ones in recent decades, plus Pakistan is threatened by a wider range of threats, both security and political. This difficult starting point meant that China faced an uphill challenge in developing CPEC and accounts for its many setbacks.
No such problems plague the IMEC countries so their series of megaprojects is expected to be much more successful than CPEC’s in all respects and lead to a quicker return on investment as well. Another difference is their corresponding strategic economic motives. CPEC has the long-term potential of linking China and Africa via Pakistan, thus supercharging Chinese economic influence across the Global South, while IMEC unofficially helps the West reduce dependence on China by hedging against it via India.
The first has struggled to fulfill this role for the earlier mentioned reasons related to the host country’s instability while the second accelerates the existing trend of Western “re-shoring” from China that began during the Sino-US trade war and continued due to COVID and the Ukrainian Conflict. Pakistan failed to take advantage of its crucial role in Chinese strategic planning as its economic-financial crisis attests, unlike India, which has masterfully taken advantage of its crucial role in Western strategic planning.
Pakistan’s economy continues crashing in spite of CPEC while India’s is the fifth-largest economy and fastest-growing major one in the world even without IMEC. The contrast between these two and their series of megaprojects becomes even more acute if one looks at the number of economic stakeholders. CPEC is a purely Chinese project and the People’s Republic is by far the largest investor in Pakistan, but IMEC involves a combination of G7 and BRICS countries, thus making it a bridge between both.
The importance of the last-mentioned point can’t be overemphasized since it proves that India has successfully positioned itself as the Convergence of Civilizations and consequently become the Global Pivot State in the New Cold War as a result of its masterful diplomatic-economic-strategic maneuvering. Pakistan could have played a complementary role as explained here, here, here, here, and here, but everything that happened after Imran Khan’s US-backed removal made that impossible.
These neighboring countries’ fates therefore couldn’t be more different: Pakistan is descending into instability, abject poverty, and isolation while India is rising as a beacon of stability in the hemisphere, continues lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and is the center of global attention. Whereas Pakistan’s problems could spill across its border and bring trouble to countless others, India’s growth fuels the global economy during these turbulent times and stands to benefit billions of people.
CPEC couldn’t save Pakistan from the cascading crises that it found itself in as a result of corruption and mismanagement, but India was already on the path to becoming a globally significant Great Power even before IMEC was unveiled. Accordingly, CPEC no longer has anywhere near its former strategic economic value in terms of shaping the world order and might likely never regain what it lost since Imran Khan’s US-backed removal, while IMEC will accelerate existing trends in ways that’ll truly reshape the world.
The very fact that this latest series of megaprojects will involve a combination of G7 and BRICS countries counteracts latent bifurcation processes in the global financial system such as those that that emerged after the latest BRICS Summit and ahead of the recent G20 one. The first prompted speculation that BRICS might become a Chinese-led alternative to the US-led G7, while the second saw President Xi skip this year’s G20 Summit in India, which reinforced perceptions about the preceding trend.
IMEC prevents the aforementioned from leading to the creation of two de facto blocs by fostering cooperation between them, thus averting the scenario of International Relations sliding back into bipolarity/bi-multipolarity with all that could entail for limiting most countries’ sovereignty. India’s role in pioneering this corridor across the western part of Eurasia could precede the unveiling of a complementary one across the eastern part aimed at solidifying its central strategic economic position.
Whereas IMEC transits West Asia to link India with Europe, its potential counterpart could transit Southeast Asia to link India with Japan, all the while India’s ties with Africa will continue diversifying in line with the “Afro-Indo Century” paradigm. The cumulative effect of these economic corridors is that they’ll reinforce India’s newfound status as the Convergence of Civilizations and consequently the Global Pivot State, which will supercharge tri-multipolarity processes and accelerate the Global South’s rise.
CPEC could have played a complementary role via the CPEC+ vision of expanding this series of Pakistani-based but Chinese-financed megaprojects across Central Asia, West Asia, and Africa, though it failed due to that host country’s political dysfunction that ultimately sabotaged its grand strategic potential. India is therefore leading the global systemic transition to multipolarity while Pakistan is left in the dust and China, whether it intends to or not, is now championing bipolarity/bi-multipolarity processes.