Department of Defense intelligence analysts are having a hard time figuring out when China thinks it will be ready to make a grab for Taiwan. The recent surge in the construction of short range amphibious ships, and constant movement of more ballistic missiles to within range of Taiwan, indicate something may happen sooner rather than later. Taiwan is only 300 kilometers from China. There are about 600 DF-15 missiles (with a range of 600 kilometers) aimed at Taiwan now, and by next year, there may be 800. Moreover, it is suspected that these missiles, and their half ton warheads, are being equipped with precise GPS navigation systems. Such systems could cripple Taiwan's air force and air defenses. China has been training its marines and army troops for amphibious operations. Because of all this, it is believed that China would be ready to make a run at Taiwan by 2010. By then they would have several hundred modern warplanes, dozens of destroyers and submarines, bombers equipped with anti-ship missiles and a long standing declaration that they would regain control of Taiwan one way or the other.
But other analysts point out that China has always done poorly in the early stages of a war, and that their program to create a large force of professional troops, and modern equipment, will take longer. Only small portions of the Chinese armed forces are getting trained and equipped to Western standards. Over 90 percent of the Chinese military are beset by decades old equipment designs and corrupt or incompetent leaders. Only with highly trained and well equipped troops, would they have a chance against Taiwanese and American forces. To produce a large force like this would take another ten or twenty years, at least. In the meantime, the Taiwanese have noted the Chinese preparations, and have suddenly for modernization fever. Until recently, Taiwanese legislators were keen to cut their defense budget. No more.
Since the 1990s, Chinese officers have been writing books about the future of the Chinese military, and possible war involving Taiwan and the United States. The authors recognize many of Chinas military problems, without admitting that the corruption and lack of readiness are as bad as they really are. But the books also discuss taking advantages of enemy vulnerabilities. Cyberwar, innovative tactics and electronic warfare are discussed, and China is known to be investing heavily in these areas. The most worrisome aspect of all this is the nationalistic flavor of these books, making it seem like a sacred duty to regain Taiwan, and take on the United States, in order to restore China to its exalted position in the world. China has not been a major world power for over two centuries, and many Chinese leaders are harping on this big time. Foreign observers, and some Chinese, see all this as the usual ploy beleaguered dictators use to get their subjects minds off local problems. The military dictatorship of Argentina used this in 1982, making a grab for the British Falkland islands, in the belief that the British would not exert themselves to take the islands back. The Argentine gamble failed, for the British did send a fleet to regain the islands. What most analysts of Chinese affairs fear most is another Falklands, with China going after Taiwan. The United States is a far more formidable military force than 1982 Britain. In 1982, the Argentines did manage to capture the Falklands, but a future attack on Taiwan might not even be able to grab the island before the American fleet and air force showed up to help out. Moreover, China has nuclear weapons, and the temptation to threaten use of nukes if more powerful American forces do not back off. China is playing with fire, and it's uncertain how many Chinese leaders are even aware of how dangerous a game they are involved in.