JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s chief executive officer this week quipped that his bank would be around longer than China’s Communist Party, and soon regretted the error. But another comment he made at the same event is far more incisive and deserves to be taken seriously.

Speaking at the Boston College Chief Executives Club on Tuesday, Jamie Dimon noted that he doesn’t know anyone who “thinks that something’s gonna go wrong in Taiwan.” Wrong in this context means an attack by Beijing against the democratically run island that it claims as its own. A Chinese intervention, he warned, “could be their Vietnam.” 

Dimon is right. Few other Western executives have dared speak of one very likely outcome in a conflict across the Taiwan Strait: A protracted ground war that could last for decades, just like the U.S. misadventure in Vietnam. 

Politicians, military strategists and academics have war-gamed numerous possible scenarios should Beijing decide to take military action. Some posit that China would strike a quick and decisive victory; others are adamant that Taiwan’s defenses — backed by support from like-minded nations such as the U.S., Japan and Australia — would repel an advance.

Yet even if its navy, air force and missile battalions manage to overpower the combined might of some of the world’s most powerful militaries, China’s People’s Liberation Army would still need to get boots on the ground in Taiwan, and keep them there. The long, thin island — 245 miles by 90 miles — is more than 100 miles off mainland China. It’s also surrounded by rough seas and is mostly mountainous. 

Additionally, the majority of its roughly 9 million adult males have done at least some form of military service, and the will of the local populace to fight against Chinese aggression is growing as local identity flourishes. However many of China’s roughly 2 million military personnel actually land on Taiwan, there’s no doubt casualties will climb as an attempted occupation drags on.

“Body bags in any country have an adverse effect at one point, particularly when the objective may be irrelevant,” Dimon said in Boston.

All concerned parties know that an actual strike on Taiwan would be no joke. That part of Dimon’s remarks was cold, hard truth.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Tim Culpan is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. He previously covered technology for Bloomberg News.

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