Greece and India: History, perspectives and IMEC

IMEC India

In our article in "Thessalia" entitled "China and India" on September 4, 2022, we argued that Greece should develop closer relations in every field (economy, education, defence, culture) with India. Greece, in recent months, with the visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Athens and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to India, is starting to follow this road, which, in contrast to the "Silk Road" of China, we propose to call it the "Spice Road," since it was this road that led to the precious, up to the Early Modern Period (16th century AD), spices, pepper, sandalwood, cinnamon (they existed in India), cloves and nutmeg, which came from islands of present-day Indonesia.

The Banda Islands of Indonesia were the only place in the world where nutmeg grew, which was believed to be a panacea for curing everything, from colic to the plague, and was very expensive; one kilo was equivalent to half the monthly salary of a Dutch sailor in the 17th century).

India is seeking to establish a new trade "corridor" linking Asia with Europe, called "IMEC", which stands for "India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor". The corridor will seek to boost transport between Europe and Asia through rail and shipping networks and is seen as a competitor to the new "Silk Road/Belt and Road Initiative" that China has been building for a decade, which is currently facing various problems.

On September 10, 2023, during the G20 summit in New Delhi, the governments of India, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, Italy, and the European Union signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create IMEC.

The plan includes Greece as India's entry country to Europe, but there is already strong activity and background on the part of Italy to bypass Greece to make Italy the essential gateway for India's entry into Europe via IMEC, thus bypassing Piraeus. For this reason, the Prime Minister of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, wants to take advantage of the fact that Italy will currently hold the Presidency of the G-7 (June 2024) to promote this goal.

Greece must move dynamically and prevent this possibility. IMEC will help the Greek economy manifold in the long term, and this historic opportunity should be noted (see Figure 1).

In addition, it is worth noting that Turkey, which always takes advantage of every opportunity to try to play a leading role wherever it can, attempted to enter the specific planning as a contracting party for the India-Middle East-Europe axis. However, it failed and is now trying to join the Belt and Road Initiative.

Unlike China, Greece and India have things in common. Historically, after Alexander the Great's campaign, the Seleucid kings, as the successors of the largest part of the empire, the Macedonian Empire, entered into diplomatic relations with the Indian kings.

In 303 BC, a treaty was made with King Chandragupta (Sandrokotos, according to Greek sources) of the Maurya dynasty, and Seleucus' daughter married Gupta himself. Seleucus' ambassador, Megasthenes, lived in the capital, Pataliputra, and travelled throughout India for many years.

A century later, Demetrius I, king of Bactria and India from 189 BC until 167 BC, the son of Euthydemus I, took over Gedrosia (southern Afghanistan) and his son Demetrius II, Punjab and then the whole region up to the mouth of the Indus River.

The most famous of the Greek kings was Menander, who converted to Buddhism and is known by the Buddhist Milinda Panha, "Questions of King Milinda", as they transliterated his name into Indian. Milinda Panha is an Indian epic (author unknown). It refers to Menadros' conversation with the Indian sage Nagasena. Menander reigned 155-130 BC and expanded his kingdom. His coins were found in Kabul and Mathura, near Delhi. The last Greek king of northwestern India, Hippostratus, reigned until about 70 BC, when Axis, the second king of the Saka dynasty, usurped his kingdom.

Greek influence is also evident in Indian sculpture after 300 BC and in the style of coins.

However, apart from its historical ties, India, as a democracy, is politically closer to Greece than non-democratic China.

India has the fifth-largest GDP at $3.5 trillion and the largest population, about 1.5 billion, having surpassed China. Its economic growth rate was 7.3% in 2023, again higher than China's.

Moreover, unlike aging China, its population is young, with over 700 million Indians under the age of 25. With high professional training and education, India is becoming an investment destination for Wall Street's major international investment banks, such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

For every investment dollar withdrawn from China, 50 cents are invested in India. If the first twenty years of the 21st century were the period of China's rise, the second twenty would be the period of India's rise, and Greece should not miss the opportunity to participate in this rise.

There are many possibilities for cooperation with Greece in every field, including education, tourism, culture, innovation, and defence.

In tourism, more and more of India's growing middle class will travel abroad, and it would be very good for the Greek economy if Greece could attract some of them. In culture, institutes of Indian studies along the lines of the Confucius Institutes, and correspondingly Greek in India, could be established in Greek universities. As far as we know, only one is in Delhi today.

Collaborations between Greek and Indian universities can be made in education.

In defence, we must remember that Indian military units fought in Greece in 1941 and 1943 in the Dodecanese. As long as Greece behaves intelligently, there are significant prospects for defence cooperation between the two countries.

We'll look over these perspectives in a future article.

By Nikos K. Kyriazis, professor emeritus of the Department of Economic Sciences of the University of Thessaly, and Emmanuel Marios Oikonomou, assistant professor of History of Economic Institutions, Department of Economic Sciences, University of Thessaly. Translated by Paul Antonopoulos.

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