India’s indispensable role is due to its efforts to swiftly operationalize the Eastern Maritime Corridor, which is poised to become the next Eurasian megaproject via its de facto incorporation into the prospective Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s trip to Russia this week overshadowed the annual Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok, which is why many observers missed one of the most meaningful outcomes of that event. Indian Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways Sarbananda Sonowal announced that his country and Russia are seeking the swift operationalization of the Eastern Maritime Corridor (EMC), also known as the Vladivostok-Chennai Maritime Corridor (VCMC), to speed up the shipment of coking coal.
This resource is required for forging steel, and India ramped up purchases of it from Russia by 700% from April-May of this year, with plans in the pipeline to possibly double that in the coming future. If they’re successful, then Russia could surpass Australia as India’s top supplier of coking coal. Swiftly operationalizing the EMC will greatly facilitate these plans by dropping transport time by 40% from 40 days to 24, which is why Minister Sonowal proposed holding a workshop about this in late October.
China is by far the world’s steel producer but India became the second-largest late last year and plans to continue growing its domestic industry. To that end, it just enacted a five-year anti-dumping duty targeting specific types of Chinese steel, which works to Russia’s competitive advantage. As Indian imports of Chinese steel decrease, domestic production will increase, and this will predictably be due to more coking coal imports from Russia.
Not only is the steel dimension of Prime Minister Modi’s Make In India policy an opportunity for Russian businesses, but also for Russian grand strategy too. Accelerating the global rise of the Indian economy through these means helps to manage China’s rise and thus retain a balance between its RIC partners. India already boasts the world’s fifth-largest economy and it’s the fast-growing major one nowadays too. It’s therefore on pace to become a powerful economic pole in Asia alongside China.
This development will eventually have the effect of giving countries on the continent more flexibility in choosing their economic partners. Many of them presently feel pressured to lean closer towards China or the US, and the optics of them economically aligning more with one could inadvertently exacerbate the other’s threat perception per their security dilemma by making them fear that a full-fledged pivot could be underway. India’s economic rise could alleviate this dilemma by presenting a third choice.
Neither China nor the US would likely perceive other countries’ decision to partner more closely with India as a threat to their interests due to its joint membership in BRICS and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). Having proven its neutrality in the New Cold War by masterfully balancing between the Sino-Russo Entente and the US-led West’s Golden Billion, India is trusted by both de facto blocs and the Global South as well, which is why nobody has any grounds to suspect it of ulterior motives.
For these reasons, India’s Russian-facilitated emergence as a powerful economic pole in Asia suits everyone’s interests by defusing Sino-US New Cold War competition. Other countries will feel less pressured to choose between those two superpowers and fear the potential consequences of the other misinterpreting their apolitical economic alignment with their rival. Of course, it’ll still take time for India to play this role, but this is one of the grand strategic goals that Russia is aiming for.
Most immediately, however, President Putin’s plans to develop his country’s resource-rich but sparsely developed and historically neglected Far East region will be advanced upon the swift operationalization of the EMC per Minister Sonowal’s proposal. This will serve as proof of his concept in action and could attract the interest of other Asian partners like Vietnam, thus helping to expand the EMC into something much more than just an Indo-Russo coking coal corridor.
Once the NATO-Russian proxy war in Ukraine inevitably de-escalates, whenever that might be, the US might tacitly encourage Japan and South Korea to participate in the EMC with a view towards having them help India balance out Chinese economic influence in Russia’s Far East. The logic behind this scenario forecast is that the US would likely prioritize China’s containment in Asia after agreeing to a “new normal” (whether formally or most probably informally) with Russia in Europe.
So long as the US continues prioritizing Russia’s containment over China’s, it’ll continue pressuring allied countries like Japan and South Korea to comply with the failed strategy of “isolating” Russia, which works out to China’s benefit due to a lack of competition in that country’s Far East. Once the US refocuses its containment priorities towards China, however, then it’ll have an interest in allied countries chipping away at China’s competitive advantage in that resource-rich Russian region.
India could then find itself in the position of leading multilateral investments there after pioneering the EMC and becoming the only major country apart from China to do business in Russia’s Far East. It’s with this sequence of events in mind, which is based on an astute understanding of New Cold War dynamics with respect to the inevitability of the NATO-Russian proxy war de-escalating after some time and the US likely “Pivoting (back) to Asia” afterwards, that India is so eager to operationalize the EMC right now.
Considering this, the timing of its five-year anti-dumping duty targeting specific types of Chinese steel takes on a completely new meaning since it appears aimed at enticing Russia to swiftly operationalize the EMC ahead of the aforesaid events entering into motion. Moreover, the timing of the upcoming workshop might also be more than coincidental since it comes before late November’s virtual G20 leaders’ summit that Prime Minister Modi hopes to host at the tail end of his country’s chairmanship.
The last in-person one over the weekend resulted in the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) being agreed upon between his country, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the US, the EU as a whole, Italy, France, and Germany. It therefore can’t be ruled out that the second virtual leaders’ summit could see agreement on a complementary Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor (IPEC) between India, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Australia with the likely participation of the US, EU, and the UK too.
All those apart from India and Indonesia might still feel uncomfortable formally acknowledging IPEC’s northernmost Russian anchor, but this possible corridor would still de facto include that country, both due to its largely untapped resource base and its control over the Northern Sea Route (NSR) to the EU. If the EMC is operationalized before the next virtual G20 leaders’ summit as could be agreed upon during October’s planned workshop, however, then Russia’s participation in IPEC would be a fait accompli.
President Putin’s keynote speech at the EEF and the insight that he shared during the Q&A afterwards, which can be read at the official Kremlin website here, confirm that he wants the largest number of countries possible investing in Russia’s Far Eastern region in order to turbocharge its development. India is indispensable to these plans due to its efforts to swiftly operationalize the EMC that’s poised to become the next Eurasian megaproject via its de facto incorporation into the prospective IPEC.
To be absolutely clear in order for readers to not have any false expectations, coking coal will probably remain the primary product transported through the EMC for some time and there’s no guarantee that IPEC will be unveiled during late November’s next virtual G20 leaders’ summit. Nevertheless, everything is still moving in the direction described in this analysis as was explained, which means that Russia’s grand strategic plans stand a very good chance of entering into fruition by sometime later this decade.