The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” The footprints of this famous quote by Sun Tzu can easily be traced in the recent soft power conflict going on between India and China. The recent 2017 military standoff between Indian armed forces and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) over a construction of road in Doklam. On June 16,2017 Chinese troops along with their road construction equipment’s started extending an existing road southward in Doklam, a territory which is claimed by both China as well as India’s ally Bhutan. However, this Doklam issue has opened an arena of rivalry between India and China. Despite this military standoff, there is also a battle going on which is based on economic corridors. Both India and China are in a serious “tug of war” situation pulling each other. China has heavily invested $45 billion in construction of CPEC being an integral part of its Belt & Road Initiative. India can’t act like a sitting duck and spectator watching Pakistan’s success. India initiated its own contingency plan to counter CPEC i.e. Indo- Pacific Economic Corridor.
Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor (IPEC) is the initiative taken by US to counter China’s OBOR project. The Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor is a vision that is clearly embedded in the `US rebalancing’ and `pivot to Asia’ strategy – which began by late 2011 early 2012. One of the core objectives of the `pivot to Asia’ strategy has been to intensify the US role in the wider Asia-Pacific region, with an emphasis on three critical areas – military planning, foreign policy and economic and trade policies. This IPEC aims to connect South Asian and South East Asian regions through India in the Pacific. This blatant strategic move by US with assistance of India has glared India and China into a new battle, which is more based on using soft power tools and tactics.
The US and India are key stakeholders; other members include Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal. The US has also recently asked Sri Lanka to become part of this project. India is now more interested in the Pacific region, because India is using “Blitzkrieg” strategy and diverting China’s attention towards Indo-Pacific region. Blitzkrieg was a military tactic used by Hitler in World War II to divert enemy’s attention and achieve its aim of war. India’s IPEC also acts like India’s economic Blitzkrieg in this battle of corridors. The India’s interest in the IPEC are clearly visible in Modi’s recent visits to Myanmar and Japan. India also remained silent on the killing of Rohingya Muslims and human right violations because of its intact economic interests in the IPEC.
Myanmar, India’s bridge to South East Asia is a key player within this project. In geographical terms, Myanmar is the first stop for India’s Look East policy. The two countries are also members of various regional groupings such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In case of Rohingya Muslims, the Rakhine state in Myanmar’s northwest is politically sensitive and important to both China and India. However, Indian government also called the Supreme Court that Rohingya Refugees are threat to its national security.
Modi’s government has tried a lot to keep Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar cards in its hands to encircle China’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region. Modi’s visit to Japan and his meeting with Shinzo Abe also highlighted the importance of Indo-Pacific region. Both leaders agreed on regional connectivity and India-Japan cooperation on development of India’s North Eastern Region (NER) as a concrete symbol of developing synergies between India’s Look East policy and Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy.
Meanwhile, China is also trying to involve Russia, Central Asian Republics and Iran to be part of CPEC in order to encircle India and to put a limit on US strategy in the region. There is a concept “Revolution in Military Affairs” which entails that with technological advancement there is a change in war strategies. In case of the recent ongoing battle of corridors the dilemma has been changed now. Economy has now become a key component to win soft power wars, which requires as more strategic and tactical thinking as war on the ground. US ambitions to connect India with Pacific and then South East Asia to Africa gives an impression that in the present multi-unipolar world, US itself is trying to create a disequilibrium in the global world order.