Recently the Department of Defense came out with its annual report on the military progress of China's military (PLA) [People's Liberation Army]. Normally, I would link to this, but I read it a week ago so I don't have it in front of me.
It basically says that China has increased its military expenditure and that the balance of power between the Taiwan Strait is still shifting towards China. I think many people will take this out of context. I want to set the record straight on how things are emerging with the world's only superpower and the world's next superpower. I am going to approach this in a very broad way.
90% of China's army is garbage. The Air Force is mostly composed of Vietnam War era Mig-21's. China has attempted for thirty years to build an F-16 class fighter. They are very close to doing this. They have successfully built everything but the engine (which they import from Russia). Once they master the engine, they will shift into mass production of their F-16 class fighter designated J-10B and their copy of the awesome Su-27SM.
Most of the navy is composed of LAUGHABLE ships. I mean laughable. The role of most ships in a modern fleet is two fold: to provide air defense and to hunt submarines. These Chinese ships can do neither. The air defense is so short, that their main weapons have the same performance as our last-ditch weapons on our navy ships. The last-ditch weapon is the one the Navy uses after they have deployed their main weapons to deal with incoming missile threats.
The army is mostly garbage. I think it still quite likely that China's armored forces have not yet caught up to 1991 Iraq. I kid you not. Most of China's tanks are inferior to the T-72's used by Saddam Hussein's Army.
By contrast, the US has the most powerful military in the world by far. We have thousands of F-15, 16 and 18 as well as 11 carrier battle groups. In the next few years we will see all those fighters replaced by the new stealth fighter F-35. No other country has a working stealth fighter (although the Russians and Indians will have one in 5 years).
Having gotten that context out of the way, I would say that very soon China should have a very strong air force composed of those J-10's and J-11's (Su-27SM). Their naval progress will be slower as the ships are just so expensive. China's naval progress has gone faster than her air force progress. The really interesting things is that despite that growth of the Chinese military budget, it still shows it's limits. China has the ability to build guided missile destroyers very similar to our own. However, it was forced to build an inferior model (051C) possibly due to budget constraints.
Indeed China is growing strong, but China is still not at the level of the Cold War rivalry we had with the USSR.