Why China is challenging Australia for influence over the Pacific Islands

(CNN)With beaches fringed with palm trees and pristine waters full of tropical fish, many Pacific Islands are the kinds of remote places you would expect to see on Instagram.

But for China and Australia, these tiny islands have become the center of an emerging power struggle.
    Foreign involvement is nothing new for these islands, which collectively control an area of ocean bigger than Russia. Colonial governments ruled some of the 14 Pacific Island nations over different periods of time. They all now govern themselves but, due to poor economic growth, this is one of the world's most aid-dependent regions.
      For decades, Australia has been the biggest donor of that aid. In many ways, that makes sense -- Australia is the richest nation in Oceania and nearly 206,700 people claimed Pacific Island ancestry in its 2016 census. As the country's Prime Minister Scott Morrison puts it: "This is our patch."
      But in recent years, China has emerged as a major player in the region, too.