China's recent attempt to bolster its influence on the Pacific island countries is likely to further complicate relations with its neighbor Japan, a close U.S. ally in Asia, probably jeopardizing the security situation in the region.
If China gains a military foothold in the island nations, the United States would need to keep closer watch on the south of the Pacific Ocean, which could undermine deterrence against Beijing in the South China Sea and waters near Taiwan and Japan.
Escalating tensions between the world's two major powers in the Pacific region would also accelerate the division of the world into two blocs -- Western democratic countries led by the United States and what they call autocratic nations like China and Russia.
As Japan deepens cooperation with the United States to tackle a possible threat from Communist China, the two Asian countries would end up vying with each other more intensely to pursue their interests in the region, increasing security instability in East Asia to the danger level, foreign affairs experts say.
The leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping has been trying to boost its security and economic clout in the Asia-Pacific region in an apparent bid to challenge the so-called Quad, comprising the United States, Australia, India and Japan.
While the Quad is widely seen as a counterweight to China's growing assertiveness, the members have stressed that it is a group deepening what it calls "practical cooperation" in fields such as infrastructure, climate change and critical technologies.
But the tabloid of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, the Global Times, has lambasted the United States and its security allies for striving to build an "anti-China alliance in Asia" and eventually form an "Asian NATO," or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is on an eight-country tour of the Pacific islands for 10 days through next Saturday, was quoted by his ministry as saying last week that Pacific island nations are "not anyone's backyard."
In 2019, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, both in the South Pacific area, switched their diplomatic ties to China from democratic Taiwan -- the self-ruled island Beijing has regarded as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland by force if necessary.
Earlier this year, China and the Solomon Islands signed a security pact, which would reportedly allow the deployment of Chinese police, military and other armed personnel, as well as the docking of the Asian country's military ships in the islands.
Speculation is rife that China might be also eager to strike a security agreement with Kiribati, located between Australia and Hawaii -- the U.S. island state that has a large number of military bases.
On the economic front, several Pacific island nations including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu have participated in China's cross-border infrastructure "Belt and Road" project that Beijing touts as the "modern Silk Road."
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, the top government spokesman, on Monday expressed wariness about China's attempt to strengthen ties with the island nations, saying, "We are watching with concern movements that can have a significant impact on the regional security environment."
A Japanese government source said the South Pacific area is "very important" to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific, a vision promoted by Tokyo and Washington for countering Beijing.
The region has "precisely become a place of conflict between a camp of countries advocating liberalism and that of nations pursuing totalitarianism," the source said, adding, "The possibility cannot be ruled out that a danger will come close to Taiwan and Japan."
As Xi's leadership has already built artificial islands with military infrastructure in the South China Sea, home to some of the world's busiest sea lanes, it is easy for Beijing to quickly deploy the country's forces to the South Pacific region, pundits say.
So far, however, China has been encountering difficulties in achieving its goals in the Pacific island nations, which basically put emphasis on democracy, freedom and the rule of law, in the face of resistance by the United States and its allies.
Last week, the Quad leaders agreed to extend more than $50 billion in infrastructure aid and investment in the Indo-Pacific over the next five years.
During Wang's trip to Pacific island countries, the White House said Fiji has joined the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework recently launched by the administration of President Joe Biden, along with 13 nations such as Australia, India, Japan and South Korea.
Australian media, meanwhile, reported Monday that China has failed to persuade Pacific island countries to sign a pact covering a wide spectrum of issues from trade to security, with Micronesia voicing fears that the move could trigger "a new Cold War."
A diplomatic source in Beijing said Pacific island nations "have not reached a consensus" on China's political proximity, adding, "There remains a chance for democratic countries to thwart China's ambitions in the region."
"It is crucial to drive a wedge in relations between China and the Solomon Islands. I think Japan can play a key role in it, given that Tokyo has enhanced amicable ties" with the island nation, the source said.
Japan has hosted the Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting every three years since 1997, focusing on matters ranging from climate change and disaster management to sustainable use of maritime resources. The Solomon Islands is a member of the gathering.
Shigeru Toyama, a former Japanese ambassador to the Solomon Islands, said in a report to the Japan Institute of International Affairs that Tokyo's activities in the global arena have "always" been supported by the island country.
In order to maintain mutually beneficial relations with the Solomon Islands, Japan should strengthen bilateral cooperation by providing aid that can meet the needs of the island nation "both in quality and quantity," Toyama said.