I think the bottom line in the contest for hegemony in the Pacific is ideological. The PRC is still a retrictive society. By contrast, the United States is much less. Who do you throw your lot in with? Communists or a Democracy?
Right...but the bags of cash they carry around is weaponizing capital. They don't give a fuck about human rights, but they've got the money to do just about anything they want. They are in Africa and Central and South America in a big way.
They have the base in Djibouti, the port in Sri Lanka (for 99 years)...and any deal cut by Chinese "businessmen" is in the best interests of the People's Liberation Army or Navy.
I blame my country for a lot of this...for the naive trade deals Bill Clinton made in the mistaken belief that opening the PRC's doors to trade with the West would also open the PRC's doors to democracy. We've pumped trillions into China's coffers; and they'll turn it against us in Xi's quest to make his country the one true Superpower.