Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, attended a session at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in New Delhi on September 9, 2023, where they were also joined by US President Joe Biden. This meeting between Biden and bin Salman is surprising, considering the tensions between the two countries over the past year. However, Saudi Arabia’s involvement in various economic and strategic alliances indicates the complex relationships that countries are forming in a multipolar world.
The United States and other Western countries are increasingly cautious of their economic ties with China, citing national security concerns. This has led to protectionist and nationalist policies that hinder global trade and fragment the global economy. However, different economies are forging their own alliances and spheres of influence, creating economic and strategic opportunities. Saudi Arabia, for example, is joining the China-led BRICS coalition and signing agreements with the Biden-led initiative on a ship-to-rail economic corridor linking India with the Middle East and European Union countries.
There is a growing recognition that exclusion from these alliances may come with risks and opportunity costs. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed concerns about being excluded from the Biden-backed New Economic Corridor and emphasized the importance of Turkey’s involvement. Developing countries are particularly attracted to these alliances because they offer promises of investment in infrastructure and regional supply chains, boosting trade connectivity and economic activity. This aligns with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has gained partnerships with 148 countries and is projected to significantly boost global GDP.
Biden’s infrastructure deals, such as the Eastern and Northern Corridors connecting India, the Middle East, and Europe, reflect his ambitions to regain influence in regions like the Middle East. However, the challenges and risks associated with these infrastructure projects are evident in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China’s agreements often involve loans from Chinese state-owned banks or policy banks, higher interest rates, and involvement of Chinese companies in construction and equipment. While these projects may have long-term benefits, they also come with debt risks and may not yield immediate profits.
Nevertheless, Biden’s approach to infrastructure deals appears to be a lower-risk alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. By focusing on connecting existing ports and rail, as well as energy grids and communication cables, Biden’s plan leverages infrastructure already in place. This approach also aims to overcome growing nationalist sentiment and trade limitations in the United States. However, domestic politics in the US may pose challenges to these developments.
In this evolving landscape, middle powers like India are crucial in building a coalition of allies to navigate the complexities of a multipolar world. Biden’s infrastructure plan, which includes India, the Middle East, and Europe, will be further discussed among participating countries. This approach emphasizes connectivity and investment, providing an alternative to the current trade liberalization efforts.
Overall, the meeting between Biden and bin Salman at the G20 summit highlights the shifting dynamics of global alliances and the pursuit of economic and strategic opportunities in a multipolar world.