A major moment came this July in a Defense Department review on the PLA. While criticized as soft by hawks, the report hit especially hard due to a comment that China's buildup now appears to go past just an effort to invade Taiwan. Rather, it stated that China was modernizing its forces with the intent of longer range operations and "regional contingencies."...Some important points there - one, that Beijing isn't going to panic and start lobbing missiles at Taipei before they're ready. Beijing remembers what happened to the Argentine Junta after the failed Falklands invasion. Two, Beijing is beginning to build a force to beat the US, not just Taiwan. But there's an important qualifier here - China may simply be assuming that a war for Taiwan will put them at war with the US anyway. This doesn't mean that China is going to invade San Francisco.
"They are buying and developing capability whose only use is against the US military," said an Asia-based US Air Force colonel. "The programs we can see are designed to combat a carrier battle group. Who is it that has carrier battle groups?"...
Taiwan especially is a place where China has succeeded in getting US attention. Despite Taiwan's 60 years of separate development, China views the island as its own territory. A conflict with Taiwan would be especially dangerous since, for internal political reasons, China can't start a war over Taiwan that it cannot win. A military loss over Taiwan could cause a collapse of the party in Beijing....
What concerns some American China experts is that creating a modern army will also create the dynamic to use a modern army. Analysts like Mulvenon point to possible unintended consequences of a buildup.
"What I worry about is the military influencing foreign policy," he says, "[decisionmakers] using the military they have paid so much for like a tool in their kit ... as leverage in certain situations.... That can be how bad things get started."
Most important of all is the part that I didn't quote above here:
In a surprisingly short time, China has accomplished two feats. One, it has focused its energy and wealth on creating an army within an army. It has devoted huge amounts of capital to create a small high-tech army within its old 2.2 million-member rifle and shoe-leather force.The PLA is still 85% built to fight "people's wars" and is in no way ready to take on the US, unless Beijing really relishes a severe drubbing.
The specialty of this modern force, about 15 percent of the PLA, is to conduct lightning attacks on smaller foes, using an all-out missile attack designed to paralyze, and a modern sea and air attack coordinated by high-tech communications.