• Many believe China is fighting a war with "checkbooks and diplomacy"
  • The pact with Solomon Islands could result in a PLA military base coming up there
  • This comes at a time the U.S. influence in the region is on the wane. 

A silent and bloodless war is raging in the South Pacific, one which has China exerting its dominance in the region, in a direct challenge to the U.S. hegemony. According to analysts, Beijing's "clear intention in the region" is evident from its latest security pact with the Solomon Islands.

The Solomon Islands confirming drafting a security deal with Beijing - a move that could result in a Chinese military base coming up there - hints that China is fighting a war with "checkbooks and diplomacy," according to National Interest.

This has triggered panic in neighboring Australia and New Zealand, which believe the move can destabilize the security in the region. "It shows in black and white what China is asking for and in some ways has done Australia a favor," Jonathan Pryke, a Pacific Islands analyst at Australia's Lowy Institute thinktank, was quoted by BBC.

"We are at the start of a long process before we would see any sort of boots on the ground or form of military presence in the Solomon Islands... but it is worrying to see just what China's intent is," Pryke added.

This is not an overnight development, but a movement building for over two decades. While ethnic Chinese have made the 14 sovereign nations and seven territories in the South Pacific their home for centuries by running the region's oldest trading houses, China’s trade, aid, diplomatic, and commercial activity in the Pacific region has also shot up since 2006.

Besides the pact with the Solomon Islands, Beijing has also paid Kiribati $60 million for two airplanes and boats. Reports add that Kiribati is also pondering opening up its largest marine reserves to commercial fishing, which may also serve as a naval base for the Chinese.

What makes these relations extremely significant is that Kiribati lies just 1,300 miles south of Hawaii, while the Solomon Islands is 1,400 miles North of Australia, a key Western ally.

Analysts too view China's growing influence in the region as a risk. There is a possibility that China may try to use its leverage through diplomacy, debt, trade, or elite capture to establish a military base somewhere in the South Pacific. Though this was initially considered very unlikely because South Pacific regions are fiercely protective of their sovereignty, leaked papers indicate a Chinese military base could potentially be set up on the Solomon Islands.

As per the document, Beijing can deploy its troops to "protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands". Chinese ships can also visit, logistical replenishment in, and have stopover and transition in the Solomon Islands.

Another risk is that there is also a chance that China, through elite capture and corruption, may try to undermine government institutions in these islands which are supported by Western donors.

Interestingly, this comes at a time the U.S. influence in the region is waning. The Pacific Islands Forum where these nations met with Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States, ended in a disaster. The election of a Polynesian candidate as the forum's new secretary-general irked Micronesia’s five nations, and they withdrew from the forum.

Though the U.S. has stepped in to mend the relations with Biden sending Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Palau, reports said the increasing isolation of these nations will push them further towards China.

Children fish at a beach in central Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, on September 14, 2012..
Children fish at a beach in central Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, on September 14, 2012.. Reuters / Daniel Munoz