Look, what exactly do you think the war will be about?
Countries don’t schedule wars like RTS games, where one side lines up all their soldiers, tanks, bombers, warships and missiles on one side of the map, and the other side lines up all their soldiers, tanks, bombers, warships and missiles on the other side of the map, and the one with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
Countries engage in armed conflict for real world reasons. Which means that the “winner” of a war depends hugely on what the war aims of each country are, and note that it is possible for both sides to win, or both to lose, of both sides have their war aims fulfilled or unfulfilled.
As a perfect example, line up the military from North Vietnam circa 1968 on one side of the map, then line up the military from the United States circa 1968 on the other side of the map and let them fight it out. Which side will win? Except, in real life, who quit the game, and who ended up controlling all of Vietnam?
If your war scenario is that the United States attempts to invade and pacify China, then there is absolutely no way this can succeed, even if you wave a magic wand and don’t allow nuclear warheads. If your war scenario is that China attempts to invade and pacify the United States, they fail even worse, they can’t even make it across the Pacific Ocean. At least the United States already has in-theater staging areas in Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
But of course, a war between the United States and China isn’t going to involve invasion of China. So what will it involve? And invasion of Taiwan by China? An invasion of North Korea or South Korea by either China or the US? A war between China and India, in which the US intervenes on the side of India? Chinese backed rebels seize control of Zimbabwe? What, exactly?
Thing is, China has a very large military, but it has almost no capability to project power globally. They don’t have long-range submarines, they don’t have aircraft carriers, they have a navy but it’s a brown-water navy organized for coastal defense. They don’t have the ability to ship and fly thousands of troops thousands of miles across the globe and keep those troops supplied with food, ammo, and fuel.
So in the hypothetical war between the US and China, what does China hope to accomplish? Throw back an American occupation force? Occupy and annex Taiwan? Occupy and annex Mongolia? Occupy South Korea or Japan? Occupy Australia? Occupy the Russian Far East? Drop a nuclear bomb on New York? Destroy a couple US carrier groups so that the US cannot project power into east Asia any more? Force the US to withdraw from South Korea? Show enough success against American forces so that China’s military will have to be taken seriously in the future, and thus deter future adventurism on the part of the US?
If China’s goal is simply to absorb, contain, and eventually force the withdrawl of any invading army, they’ve got an almost 100% chance of success–barring internal revolt. Going the other way they’ve got a very tough goal. Just making a landing on Taiwan would be really difficult, but if they could occupy Taiwan and declare it annexed, then the rest of the world would probably let them get away with it. But territorial expansion into India, Russia, or Mongolia? There’s no way the international community would let that stand. Or do they want to send “advisors” into the neighboring country and set up a puppet government? Can they do any of this without wrecking their export economy? It isn’t easy to predict their chances of success unless we define exactly what would constitute success or failure.
And the idea that since China owns a lot of US debt they could crush our economy is silly. If you loan a guy billions of dollars and he won’t pay it back, does he have a problem or do you have a problem?