Articles

Here's who would win if China tried to take back Taiwan

As you have probably heard by now, President-elect Donald Trump took a congratulatory phone call from the Taiwanese president.


The foreign-policy establishment has had a collective case of the vapors over the call – and the President-elect's tweets, worrying about a war over them.

But could America and Taiwan defeat a Chinese attempt to invade Taiwan?

To pull off an amphibious invasion, you need amphibious sealift to carry a lot of troops. To give you an example of what it might take just to get a foothold, the Allies needed to place five divisions of troops on Normandy. That's about 85,000 troops.

Today, the United States has the largest amphibious sealift force in the world, and combined with maritime pre-positioning ships, it could probably carry almost two Marine Expeditionary Forces. That's two divisions and two air wings — about 100,000 troops.

An unconfirmed conceptual rendering of a possible design for China's Type 081 amphibious-assault craft. | Global Times Forum

China's current amphibious sealift, according to the 16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World, consists of four Yuzhao-class landing platform docks, a total of 27 landing ship tanks, and 11 medium landing ships. That's a total of 42 major ships carrying 15,600 troops.

Or, roughly one Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

It's not enough for China to take Taiwan even if Beijing were to sail unopposed – and the PLA would be opposed.

And the Taiwan Straits are a little too wide to try a Million Man Swim. Not to mention the fact that to use merchant ships or ferries, you need to grab a port.

So, an amphibious attack is not likely to work. But what China does have is submarines.

Combat Fleets of the World reports China has about 70 subs on active service, ranging from antique Romeo-class vessels to modern Shang-class attack submarines. There are also a number of older subs — mostly Romeos and Ming-class vessels — in reserve.

As an island nation, Taiwan will be heavily dependent on maritime trade. The United Kingdom is in a similar situation, and the "U-boat peril" was the only thing to ever really frighten Winston Churchill.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

That said, in such a situation, Taiwan and the United States would be working to break such a submarine blockade quickly – and they would have help. Japan and South Korea might not idly sit by as the Chinese start a fight that could disrupt trade in the Taiwan Straits (which, as it turns out, is a major sea lane both countries need).

American, South Korean, and Japanese ships would be very good at anti-submarine warfare, but the Chinese have a lot of subs. The fight could be a close thing, and we would see the 2016 version of the Battle of the Atlantic rage in the Western Pacific.

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