Australia must not take Pacific nations for granted as it has in the past as China looms as an alternative partner which offers "significant benefits", two former presidents from the region have warned.
Former Kiribati president Anote Tong and former Palau president Thomas Remengesau jnr said Australia had neglected its relationships in the region, suggesting that that diplomatic failure had opened the door for an increasingly assertive China to expand its influence.
Beijing has made a concerted push into the Pacific in recent months, striking a security pact with Solomon Islands before trying, unsuccessfully, to stich up a region-wide agreement.
China's overtures have put pressure on the new Labor government to step up its presence in the region and ensure Australia remains the partner of choice for Pacific nations.
Mr Tong said the Pacific landscape had changed amid China's emergence as a "very significant and aggressive player" in the region.
Mr Tong said Pacific nations tended to gravitate to democratic nations, such as Australia.
But he said China was offering "significant benefits" to potential partners as it attempts to expand its influence in the region.
Mr Tong noted that Kiribati was among the countries which China was courting. China was accused of engineering Kiribati's withdrawal from the Pacific Islands Forum earlier this year - although Beijing rubbished that claim.
In a word of warning to Pacific nations, Mr Tong said the long-term cost of doing business with China remained unclear.
"How would it affect the security of our neighbours, in particular for Australia which has had an interesting relationship with China?" he told ACM.
Mr Tong said Kiribati had a special bond with Australia, including using its currency.
But he said the diplomatic relationship had been neglected.
"I think to a large extent that relationship has been taken for granted, it has not been nurtured and cultivated," he said.
Mr Remengesau Jr echoed those comments, suggesting that Pacific nations would need to turn elsewhere if Australia - which he described as the "big brother of the Pacific" - wasn't there in their time of need.
"We are friends to all and enemies to none," he said.
"If you're swimming and drowning in the water, who do you expect to throw out a lifeline? It's your family ... you help each other before you reach out to your neighbours.
"But when you are being taken for granted you can't help but look for some meaningful collaboration."
ACM contacted Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy, but he declined to comment as the government tries to stay out of politics in the immediate aftermath of the Queen's death.
Labor's election platform included a suite of policies to strengthen ties in the Pacific, including an extra $525 million in aid over the next four years, setting up a new defence school and boosting funding to the ABC to help beam more Australian content into the region.