On the remote island of Aitutaki, the Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting will reach a crescendo without one member.
Nauru President David Adeang, elected last month, travelled to Cook Islands for the summit, but chose not to accompany his counterparts to Friday’s leaders retreat.
“They’re not here and they have their reasons,” Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr said.
The Micronesian state walked out of a plenary meeting on Thursday when their controversial choice to be the next Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) secretary general, Baron Waqa, was raised.
Attempts to coax Mr Adeang back inside the tent failed, raising the prospect of another nasty rift in the forum.
Last year, another Micronesian nation – Kiribati – announced it had left the 18-nation body, only returning after peace talks yielded significant concessions to their sub-region
How leaders handle this situation, both Mr Adeang and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese included, will be critical to whether PIF remains the primary international body for the region.
Mr Albanese said he didn’t see the walkout, and said the group appeared unified to him.
The Australian prime minister will join the remaining leaders to spend the day on a boat on Aitutaki’s luminescent lagoon, discussing the region’s issues in private.
Mr Waqa’s candidacy has rocketed up the agenda, which also includes climate change, nuclear issues, and a proposal from Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka to re-badge the Pacific as a “zone of peace”.
The PIF summit has already been hit by the non-attendance of leaders from four of the biggest six members: New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, who have sent ministers.
Mr Rabuka said it was a shame Mr Adeang decided not to turn up.
“They should have been here,” he said.
Mr Whipps said Nauru’s Micronesian colleagues would pick up the slack.
“They said, ‘You represent us’, so we’re here as Micronesia,” he said, suggesting the heal could mend.
“Maybe just a misunderstanding but we’ll get through it.”