Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


Of the four foreign policy bills that passed the U.S. House last Saturday, the most votes cast were to aid Taiwan. Unlike controversies over Ukraine and Israel, there's relative consensus on concerns over China's rise and the threat it poses to Taiwan.

For decades, the U.S. has helped arm Taiwan and has hewed to a policy commonly called "strategic ambiguity," which in effect meant that uncertainty regarding U.S. defense of the country would deter Beijing from invading and keep Taipei from making a formal push for independence.

While tensions have ebbed and flowed over the years, the status quo between Taiwan and China has generally been maintained. What has changed most dramatically is China itself: Since then-President Richard Nixon made his historic trip in 1972, culminating in the U.S. officially recognizing the People's Republic of China as the sole legal government of China in 1979, the nation has become an economic, geopolitical and military superpower.

Meanwhile, U.S. presidents have had differing interpretations of strategic ambiguity, with President Joe Biden being the most assertive in signaling America's intent to defend Taiwan in the advent of an invasion — a prospect made more likely by Chinese President Xi Jinping's increasingly bellicose claims to what Beijing considers a breakaway province.

Taiwan policy should be a profound issue in the presidential race. But like many matters of actual substance, it's subsumed by nonconsequential controversies or constant focus on former President Donald Trump's court cases. Whoever wins in November will have to contend with contention over Taiwan, so voters are owed a thorough, thoughtful position.

It's uncertain, however, if the campaign will rise to such gravitas. Fortunately, four foreign policy experts will do just that on Thursday at a University of Minnesota event. Hosted by the U's China Center, a moderated discussion organized by the Brookings Institution's Foreign Policy Program will try to answer this fundamental question: "Should the United States change its policies on Taiwan?"

In preparation, each expert submitted a written opinion, and each had the opportunity to respond to the others, with it all available to the public, who will also have an opportunity to ask the panelists questions. While a relatively concise editorial cannot do justice to the depth of thinking, each foreign policy practitioner has at least a slightly different emphasis on a tool of statecraft.

For instance, Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow and director of research in Foreign Policy at Brookings, proposes that the U.S. "make it unambiguously clear to Beijing that, were it ever to attack Taiwan in a concerted attempt to coerce capitulation and reunification, the U.S.-China relationship could never be the same." China, he writes, "should have no illusions that the rich, broad, mutually beneficial relationship that it built with the United States over several decades could survive such a scenario."

While there is crossover among all four in terms of the most effective approach to Taiwan, Ivan Kanapathy, a senior vice president with Beacon Global Strategies (who also served on the White House's National Security Council staff as director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia as well as deputy senior director for Asian affairs from 2018-2021) suggests that "to maintain peace, Washington must invest more in hard deterrence." This approach was among the key drivers of the Taiwan aid bill.

Meanwhile, Rorry Daniels, the managing director of Asia Society Policy Institute, emphasizes that however imperfect, the policy that the U.S. has implemented has been relatively successful, and warns that "recasting Taiwan as a military problem with political dimensions, rather than a political problem with military dimensions, is a major mistake. It undermines all sides' ability to handle the sovereignty issue, creating a path dependence toward conflict, by devaluing the effects of political maneuvering and changes."

For his part, Thomas Hanson, a former Foreign Service officer who is now diplomat-in-residence at the University of Minnesota Duluth, says that "to reverse the rising danger of military confrontation between the United States and China, the United States should once again embrace 'strategic ambiguity' while engaging in active diplomacy and military confidence-building measures with Beijing. Such steps will be essential to meet the security dilemma that plagues the U.S.-China relationship."

That security dilemma will involve the next president. Minnesotans can get a sense of the stakes — and demand candidates for federal office focus on such important international matters — by attending the U event or watching it later on the U or Brookings websites. The discussion will be moderated by the Star Tribune Editorial Board's John Rash.

Takeaways will vary, but most — including, hopefully, the U.S. and Chinese presidents — will concur with O'Hanlon's warning that "A U.S.-China war must never be fought."