As President Joe Biden is returning home from meeting Quad leaders Japan, Australia, and India in Tokyo, the stakes could not be higher. A free and open Indo-Pacific is on the line, and nothing symbolizes that fact more than an island country that America once fought to free but is now sliding toward the enemies of freedom.

Eighty years ago this month, the free world was focused on the imperial Japanese Navy seizing parts of the Solomon Islands — an event that ultimately led to the bloody Battle of Guadalcanal. Today, the People’s Republic of China has inked a security pact with the Solomon Islands, giving its armed forces access to the centrally located country and once again putting the region’s security, and America’s strategic interests, in a perilous situation.

The Biden administration recently sent a high-level delegation to the Solomons, but only after the PRC pact was leaked. This reactive, “just in time” diplomacy isn’t enough. In fact, it is emblematic of the United States defensively reacting to Chinese actions instead of seizing the initiative as a global leader should.

Working with allies and partners to implement the administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy, despite some of its shortcomings, is now even more urgent given China’s diplomatic and potential military gains regionally. Troublingly, the lack of a national security strategy and a national defense strategy focused nebulously on integrated deterrence in the shadow of the absolute failure to deter aggression in Europe indicate that more concrete action is required to avoid the same fate in the Indo-Pacific.

Beyond the Solomon Islands, Beijing is slowly but surely trying to gain leverage, or outright control, over the entire Indo-Pacific, like Imperial Japan before it. In Kiribati, through the Belt and Road Initiative, China is leading the strategically located Canton Island runway expansion and may also establish a security agreement with China. Given China’s regional diplomatic and military gains, it is critical that America forge yet stronger ties with allies and partners in the region to counter the Chinese threat.

Ahead of President Biden’s meeting with the Quad, he launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which will bolster and strengthen trade and economic ties in the region. Despite bipartisan support in the Senate, Taiwan was regrettably excluded from the IPEF. While stronger commercial relationships are important, the U.S. must sharpen its focus on the immediate security threat, most notably with the 14 Pacific Island countries that dot the region and determine whether the free world or an unfree China has the upper hand.

Rooted in common Judeo-Christian principles, the U.S. has unique ties with these countries, complimented by more traditional ties through trade and security. Perhaps the most illustrative example is the Compacts of Free Association, formalized in 1986 between the U.S and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau.

Through the Compacts, the U.S. provides grants to fund education, healthcare, and infrastructure in these states. In exchange, the U.S. is permitted exclusive use and strategic military positioning in the Pacific. Citizens of these countries are also permitted to work, live, and travel freely in the U.S. without a visa. They are also allowed to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, representing some of the highest enlistment rates.

Unfortunately, the Compacts will expire over the next two years, and it’s so far unclear whether renewal will happen. If renewed, the Compacts will likely cost well over $200 million annually, yet that cost to taxpayers pales in comparison to the geopolitical price if Communist China fills the void.

Recently, the Biden administration finally appointed a seasoned diplomat, Ambassador Joseph Yun, to build on the early and important work of the Trump administration to begin negotiations to renew the Compacts of Free Association.

Renewing the Compacts of Free Association must now become a top policy focus for the Biden administration in the Indo-Pacific. What’s more, other countries should be invited into a similar set of compacts. There are other countries that could easily align with the U.S. in similar arrangements, including the Republic of Nauru, Tuvalu, and the Independent State of Samoa. Concluding similar arrangements would demonstrate U.S. initiative and put Communist China on its heels, unlike the most recent diplomatic debacles we have witnessed.

American leadership is desperately wanted and needed in the Indo-Pacific. Beyond the renewal and expansion of the Compacts, the U.S. should reinforce its commitment to initiatives like Civic Action Teams, which lead an array of community construction, medical projects, and apprenticeship programs in the region; the Peace Corps, which fills vital local needs and spreads tremendous goodwill; new U.S. embassies, which can be beacons of American diplomacy and values; and more. Simply put, there are many opportunities for enhanced collaboration in the region.

Immediate action is necessary to blunt Communist China. The Biden administration has an opportunity, and an obligation, to keep Beijing at bay in the all-critical Pacific Island countries. Following President Biden's meeting with the Quad is the perfect time to recommit publicly to this effort and region. If not, the U.S. may find itself fighting a war over countries like the Solomon Islands in the region once again.

Joseph Cella was the U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu, and Tonga from 2019-2021. Heino Klinck is a retired U.S. Army colonel who was the deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia from 2019-2021.