CNN WORLD News

U.S. military experts: Taiwan
would win showdown with China

Tank

March 19, 1996
Web posted at: 11:45 p.m. EST (0445 GMT)

From Correspondent Jamie McIntyre

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a David-and-Goliath showdown between Taiwan and China, U.S military experts say David has the upper hand. The David here being, of course, Taiwan.

China is 266 times the size of Taiwan, has 55 times the number of people and a standing army seven times bigger than Taipei's force. But tiny Taiwan could fend off China if the military giant tried to invade, defense analysts say.

Ret. Col. Sam Gardiner of the USAF said he believes Taiwan can protect itself from China without the United States.

With more than a billion people, China is slightly bigger than the United States in size, while Taiwan's 21 million people are on an island roughly the size of Connecticut and New Hampshire.


Comparison

On paper, the military matchup appears one-sided. China has a significant numerical edge in planes, troops, tanks, ships, and missiles.

But experts say Taiwan is far ahead in training and technology, and enjoys a home field advantage. China also faces the vexing problem of getting its troops across the 100-150 mile wide strait of Taiwan.

"China would have to land somewhere in the neighborhood of 14-to-15 divisions, maybe that's 150, 200 thousand troops on the island," Gardiner said.

China has only enough amphibious assault ships to move a force about one-tenth that size across the Strait. Chinese troops would face M-60 battle tanks, 12 well-trained Taiwanese infantry divisions, including two armored divisions of older but very lethal U.S. battle tanks.

"Against an infantry force landing on the island, these (weapons) are very effective," Gardiner said.

China could suffer some 50 percent casualties and be forced to withdraw.

Weapons

While Taiwan's superior U.S.-made fighters would operate close to home, China's mostly vintage Soviet-built planes would be hundreds of miles from their mainland bases dodging American-made Hawk anti-aircraft missiles.

"In that environment, everybody I know would expect Taiwan to win that air battle," Gardiner said.

Taiwan's Achilles' heel could be the Quemoy and Matsu islands, which are within easy artillery range of China -- just a few miles off the mainland coast -- and could prove indefensible, experts say.

While China continues to build up its navy and air force, Pentagon planners say the military balance is not expected to shift, largely because Taiwan, too, is spending billions on better weapons. Its new arsenal includes U.S. F-16 fighter jets and modified Patriot missiles, all capable of countering the Scud-like M-9s fired this month by China near Taiwan's ports.

Given a huge commitment of money and lives, China could over time take Taiwan. For that matter, China's nuclear weapons are capable of wiping out the island. But military planners don't see those as real options, because in the process China would lose the prize it seeks-- a prosperous Taiwan that pumps billions into the mainland's economy.

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