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What Would the U.S. Do if China Moved Against Taiwan?

A conflict over Taiwan would involve millions of troops and hundreds of fighter jets, but not necessarily nuclear weapons.

China and the U.S. are both nuclear powers with the power to destroy each other's territory with intercontinental missiles. But would a conflict over Taiwan escalate to their use? 

Kris Osborn, editor at Warrior Maven, believes such a scenario unlikely. Instead, Osborn believes a more conventional dynamic would define the conflict: the U.S. and its allies would seek to establish air supremacy to counter China's advantage on the ground. The United States and its regional allies—such as Japan and Australia—control hundreds of fighter jets between them. 

“China, according to many reports, only has about 20 to 50 J-20 aircrafts, which are fifth-generation equivalents," noted Osborn. “The Chinese would likely have a very hard time establishing air superiority.” The U.S. and its allies, he continued, would be well-positioned to use this advantage to stop an amphibious assault on Taiwan. 

China, however, has the advantage on the ground. In the event of a sudden attempted takeover, Osborn said marshaling the needed land forces to mount a defense of the island would be “extremely challenging.”

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“China has as many as two-million active-duty soldiers,” Osborn said. “If they had boots on the ground there, any kind of assault would likely start with long-range, ballistic missiles. If they're a hundred miles from the coast, [the U.S. and allies] could easily target a bunch of areas in Taiwan.”

Osborn said dislodging Chinese land forces would be difficult, but not impossible. 

"You could use long-range weapons to soften the defenses on the perimeter and see if you can somehow get on the beach [and] maybe create a corridor for all of those Japanese, South Korean, and U.S. troops,” he said. 

Watch the full interview: