If China and the US went to war who would win?

I would like to know. I am sure someone out there knows the answer.
This war would not include nuclear weapons.

                         Thank you,

My snap judgment: it depends on the type of war.

  1. Naval war - America wins, all the way.

  2. Air/Land war in America - Not possible because of #1 above.

  3. Air/Land war in China (no U.S. allies participating) - China wins, all the way. We might get a beachhead, but we’d never make it into the interior.

  4. Air/Land war on territory of U.S. ally neighboring China - Dunno. Which ally?

War is not about winning, it’s about loosing the least.

Allow me to elucidate… This war would use all our forces as one. An all out attack. Strategic as the Gulf conflict.

The Vietnam War and countless wars and incursions before and since require that you define the term “win.”

I reckon the team with the homeground advantage. That lake is rather wide, and a logistical nightmare.

A scenario something like the Gulf War? Our victory in that war was hugely dependent on the fact that we diplomatically isolated Iraq and the Saudis let us use their country as a base.

Whether it could be repeated would depend a lot on who our host country was, and what territory we were trying to take back. Kuwait is small and has no natural barriers. If China took Nepal* and India agreed to host us, I’d give us no more than a 50% chance to take it back without nukes, and it would be very, very bloody. Our air superiority would be nearly useless with the kind of weather we’d be facing up there, our armor even less useful, and Nepal is very defensible terrain. On the plus side, India is not Saudi Arabia either; it’s got a very respectable military force that would be a major contributor to the campaign. And China’s supply lines, running through hundreds of miles of rough terrain inhabited by resentful Tibetans, would be a sitting duck. So we might have a chance after all. But I’d take 5-4 odds for China to hold the territory. After a year, India and America get tired of the blood, the Indian parliament holds a vote of no-confidence, and the new peace administration asks us pointedly to go home.

Another scenario with other countries might have a different outcome.

*What China would want with Nepal I have no earthly idea.

You really need to clarify why the two nations would go to war in the first place. Political reasons? Ideological? Expansionistic? If they just fight each other for no good reason, then they each lose a lot while gaining nothing – they both lose. The only possible winner would be a third nation (or alliance) that would swoop in after the war to occupy one of the war-torn countries. Alternatively, some bystanders might just be able to benefit. Who wins if the U.S. and China destroy each other? Maybe Tibet and Cuba, that’s who.

The PLA, or People’s Liberation Army, the professional fighting force of the People’s Republic of China, maintains in its official propoganda that it can, within six weeks, raise an army of 200 million able bodied soldiers. I don’t remember the source on that, but that was about three years ago when I did my thesis on U.S./China/Taiwan.
But…the only problem is, the Chinese can’t get any of their troops anywhere, and they don’t have the industrial capacity to fully equip and maintain both their troops and their supply lines. Logistically, that’s a nightmare.
Also, throw in the fact that most of China’s military equipment, the real mules of the army, not the fancy stuff they take out for the press and parades, is ex-Soviet equipment left over from the Second World War.
Throw in the fact that China is far more diverse than Europe, with many many different linguistic groups, that the PRC’s central government lacks a great deal of power in dealing with the provincial governments, and you have an utterly chaotic chain of command that would further add to China’s weakness to wage war.
Any comparisons to Desert Storm or Viet Nam are completely unfounded in this case. Desert Storm was an offensive, not a prolonged war, and it was in terrain that was ideal for America’s newest technology.
Viet Nam was a counter insurgency. I can’t think of a single time a counter insurgency has ever been won in history. That type of war is a battle of wills, not armies, and people fighting for their lives and homes have always been able to sustain the fight longer than conscripts fighting for a paycheck because some leader far away believes the war is neccesary for political reasons.
Could the U.S. win over China? Most probably, although there is always an element of chance in war. The most probably scenario is a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, which the U.S could stop without any real trouble. The Chinese Navy probably couldn’t win a battle against he Spanish Navy. With the U.S. acting to defend Taiwan the war would be an easy victory. The people of Taiwan do not want to be ruled by China and would be fully willing to help out in any way.
On the other hand, a full out invasion of China would be very difficult and I doubt it would work in a purely tactical manner. There is no way to just send an army over to China, land and march your way in Beijing and then occupy the country. But…what all of you seem to be forgetting is Special Means Warfare. The U.S. has plenty of people who sit around thinking up clever ways to exploit the enemie’s weakness. You have to think strategicaly(sorry, spelling is not my strong point), not tactically. Using whatever means at our disposal, especially the large number of dissidents in China, the U.S. could expand the problems of the central government in the PRC, use our satalite recon to keep watch while we feed the Chinese all the wrong information about our movement. Use underground dissidents and our own agents to spread disinformation and to cause further chaos. We would use every means at our disposal to win the war, not just duke it out mano-a-mano.

It would be costly, but we could most probably win the likely scenarios. The only weakness I can see that the U.S. has is our current reliance on technology rather than people for intelligence, but in war, that would likely change.
Still, for us, it would be easier to use subterfuge, economics and every other thing we can to topple their government. It’s far easier than war and it works a lot better.
One last note: the U.S. and PRC will probably never go to war, because generally, large scale conflicts like in the early twentieth century, are, I think a thing of the past. There have always been wars, there always will be wars, but the nature of those wars has continually been changing. I think WWII will have been the last major war. I pray history never proves me wrong. If the U.S. and China go to war it will be a few quick strikes here and there, but nothing big, no millions of casualties, no destroyed cities, no battles like Kursk. Just like you never see wars involving cavalry charges, or pikes, or viking raids, so I think we’ll never see any more D-Days or Blitzes. Let’s just hope our cokehead president doesn’t do anything stupid to get his numbers up in the poles.

Three points:

Firstly, what’s the goal of this war? You can’t really answer the OP without a reason behind it. If China (say) launched a wave of terrorist attacks on the US mainland, then US public support (and therefore political willpower) would be much higher. The leadership would be able to call up the National Guard with less public resistance, would be able to sustain higher casualties and would be able to war for longer without the public starting to get “Vietnam worries”.

On the other hand, if China invaded Taiwan there would probably be support for a naval and air war, but little public stomach for any land action against China. Fighting on someone else’s behalf will not motivate the US public to support a war for the same length of time or for the same numbers of casualties.

So what’s the US’ motivation for this?

Secondly, once this war is underway the casualties suffered by the US will play a major role in determining who wins, or at least how long the US leadership will sustain the campaign. If public opinion turned, it would be relatively easy to call a halt with troops having bloodily established a foothold (“Well, we wanted to teach them a lesson”) - even if the original goal was to capture Beijing. How the US public reacts to seeing all-American boys in bodybags will make a huge difference.

Thirdly, is this the US vs China, or is it the UN vs China, or is it the US plus friends vs China? Right now the US is not at its most popular, and the amount of military aid from other nations may make a huge political difference (the US is less likely to give up and go home if other allied countries have an equal stake in not losing face).

I would like to bring up a point. Some mentioned an air war or naval war. In today’s battle there is no such thing.
All the branches work as one. If the Navy was fighting a ship in the Pacific and could not immediately destroy the target an Air Force fighter would be called upon for support.
The reason I asked the question was because I often hear people I work with saying that China would win a war. I disagree. China has no Air Power, which is a very powerful tool. I however lack the knowledge of China’s military as whole (smart weapons etc.).
I do know that our defense budget is something like 300 billion dollars to China’s 2 billion. Also, I know that their troops are most likely not as well trained as ours.
Thank you for taking the time to ponder my query.

There can be separate land, air and naval wars, but you can’t separate the assets involved in each. You can have a war fought at sea in which air assets provide reconnaissance and airstrikes, but where all of the targets are naval. You can have an air war - as in the early stages of the Gulf War - without land involvement, although naval missile bombardment will most likely be used.

China’s air force is technologically no match for the US and would most likely be overwhelmed if the US committed forces in numbers. The same is true for their navy, although diesel-electric attacks subs could theoretically inflict some nasty losses on the US first.

Their budget is nothing in comparison, and neither is the technology, but you can’t compare military power on finances alone. Strength in numbers, terrain advantage (e.g. China invading the US versus the US invading China), popular indoctrination and media involvement cannot be discounted. The US would face two additional problems that the Chinese probably wouldn’t: international pressure and media pressure. The price of trying to be an open, democratic world leader is that you can’t ignore the voices of your citizens or those nations you seek to ally.

You can find more discussion about this in this thread as well:


This belongs in great debates.

don’t forget the Korean war. The UN troops pushed up close to the Yalu river and the Chinese entered the war. Damn near pushed the UN into the ocean, and McArthur saved the day with a hairbrained ultra high tide landing at Inchon. Managed to push up to the 38th parallel and stagnated there.

The US can rule the skies and the water, but you’re not going to be able to land troops without huge casualties. You’re not going to be able to hold ground. The Chinese would easily loose the equivalent to the entire population of the US, and still have a billion people in reserve. Don’t care if it’s a turkey shoot, sheer numbers would stop any ground offensive.

China can not possibly take war to US soil unless via terrorist activities or nukes.

As others have mentioned the OP needs to define what is being sought in this war.

If you mean all out, WWII style war where only occupation and unconditional surrender are the ultimate goals then you can forget it on both sides. Neither country would ever win. The US might have a slightly better shot at victory but I still don’t see it.

If China attacked the US with the goal of marching on Washington and ‘owning’ our country they would have move a HUGE number of troops across the Pacific. In terms of naval power the US reigns supreme and Chinese invasion task forces would be sunk LONG before they even got within sight of the United States. The US also reigns supreme in the skies so you can forget airlifts (not too mention you simply can’t move that many troops via air fast enough to sustain a major assault. China can’t even muster enough transport for a credible attack on Taiwan just off their coast…no way they make it to the US.

The other option is for China to come in from a neighboring country. That means Canada or Mexico and again, I’m sure the US would have something to say about this and would stop it long before they got close (and frankly both Mexico and Canada could probably fend off an attack by the Chinese by themselves).

Let’s assume they establish a beachhead in the US. Once here the Chinese Army would not only have to deal with our army but they would also have to deal with a populace that is particularly well armed. Urban warfare would be a nightmare. I doubt China could take Los Angeles much less the entire US.

As for the US attacking China this is slightly more plausible. China has more neighbors than we do, not all of whom like China. Presumably we could stage our troops in a neighboring country (by force if necessary) before an assault which helps some but after that it becomes a nightmare fast. The US couldn’t defeat Vietnam. Vietnam is a MUCH smaller country than China (both in terms of geographic size and population). The Vietnamese also weren’t nearly as well equipped as the Chinese are. Add to that figthing in every kind of terrain imaginable (much of it quite difficult) and you have a real nightmare on your hands.

If the US committed 100% (and I do mean 100%) to the war and threw absolutley everything we had into it we just might pull it off but it would be hideously expensive and the chances of failing would still be great.

Of course, nukes change the whole picture but that option wasn’t allowed for this discussion. I think it was an Indian official who noted after the Gulf War that the ONLY option for countries who wanted to fight the US was the nuclear option. It’s the one place the US can still most assuredly be stung and one of the reasons a nuclear missile shield scares the hell out of so many countrys. Take away their one and only threat to keep the US at bay and you get a scared country. Wars can start to preempt such defenses before they get online (i.e. I better use my nukes now while I still can or else tomorrow I’ll be at my enemy’s mercy).

Back in WWII one could achieve surprise attacks. Today, with radar, satellites, and instant communication it is near impossible to muster a huge invasion force and get it anywhere near another country without them knowing about it long beforehand. As a result the big boys on the block just can’t afford to tangle face-to-face. The damage would be huge and there’s not much to gain. Instead the big boys fight via proxy in other countries and gain influence that way. As was said before the way to wage war today is to slowly sap the strength from your enemy economically and politically so you don’t have to fight at all.

I think Sun Tzu would approve of that.

I agree with much of the above. We would be able to repel a Chinese invasion of Taiwan with our navy and air force, but to attempt any sort of land invasion of the mainland would be a total bloodbath, and really would serve no purpose, though I would think airstrikes on the mainland would definitely take place.

Most likely any war would be over Taiwan, and all the fighting would take place around that island, though a second theater could form in the Pacific and Indian oceans as the Chinese navy tries to prevent American naval and USAF units from being shipped across the ocean.

By the way don’t discount the contribution of Taiwan to defend itself- it is a well armed government thanks to the the US of A.

I pretty much don’t think a Chinese attack on Taiwan is probable. They know we would kick their asses. One Chinese general threatened to nuke L.A. if we ever tried to stop them, but we have enough nukes to vaporized all 1.5 billion of 'em. China more likely would look for a way to sue for peace while saving face, and I’m sure we would accomodate them. The days of “total victory” and “unconditional surrender” are over.

China does a lot of posturing. I think what is going to eventually happen is that Taiwan will re-unite with the Mainland in an arrangement very similar to what is going to in Hong Kong, but with Taiwan retaining more autonomy. The Bush Administration has taken a tough stance on Taiwan while working to this goal, and I think that is the right way to handle it.

I fail to see how can have a meaningful discussion about “all out attacks” and 100% commitments and ignore nuclear weapons. Doesn’t that render the whole OP meaningless? If it’s a real world question, how can you ignore such an important part of the real world history and circumstances?

Put it this way: if we had an effective missile defense system up and running that could neutralize China’s 20 or so nuclear weapons, how would the war play out?

If our objective were to engage in a war that resulted in the overthrow of the current Beijing regime, I’d look at naval blockades, air strikes against power plants, bridges, and highways, mining harbors, and other ways of disrupting that nation’s economy. Such measures couldn’t be sustained very long, but I’d gamble that the resultant social upheavals might be just enough to overthrow Jiang and company–who, after all, have staked most of their claim to legitimacy on their ability to keep the economy growing.

Of course, that might just piss off the populace and cause them to rally round the flag.

And also bear in mind that a global economic downturn would likely result from any war on this scale, one that would cause a severe recession or depression in the US as well.

The U.S. would almost immediately achieve air supremacy. And that’s pretty much all she wrote, these days. Forget about fighting 200 million soldiers in a big land battle. You simply do what we did in Iraq - once you have air supremacy, you just pin down the enemy, cut off supply lines, and destroy anything that moves. Don’t forget that Iraq had the 3rd or 4th largest army in the world. They didn’t come into play because by the time the land war started, they were thoroughly demoralized, tired, and without supplies. Also, they had no command-and-control, it having been completely destroyed in teh air war, and a modern army lives and dies by its C&C.

This is the same army that we said would never surrender because they were bloodied in battle against Iran, in some of the grimmest desert warfare ever seen, and proved themselves to be tenacious beyond belief. What we found out is that there is a BIG difference between fighting battles head-on against a defined enemy, and being killed by bolts from the blue way behind the front lines. Can you imagine how it must feel to know that you are in the crosshairs 24/7, no matter where you go? To see trucks blown off bridges right in front of you, hit by a missile you can’t see, fired from an aircraft that also can’t be seen? To have your commander blown apart in his bed at midnight 300 miles from the front lines?

That’s what we’d do to the Chinese. Cut them off, destroy their supply lines, establish a no-fly zone (and a no-drive-truck zone, for that matter), and let them sit. Any time they tried to mobilize, they’d be met with a hail of missiles.

Also, when talking about numbers of resources, don’t forget that the Americans almost always dominate battles so heavily that they achieve kill ratios of 10-1 or even higher. It’s been like that since WWI. Many U.S. fighters in WWII, for instance, sustained kill ratios of better than 10-1 throughout the entire war.

Did the U.S. lose any tanks to enemy fire in the Gulf? I don’t recall, but their kill ratio in that war was phenomenal. I expect it would remain so against the Chinese, or perhaps be even better.