Beijing recently authorized the use of force if Taiwan ever declares its independence. America has a defense treaty with Taiwan but honoring that treaty would mean war with China.
The Taiwanese armed forces practice defending the island from a Chinese invasion. Those planes are supposed to be dropping Chinese paratroopers on the island.
Even though the Taiwanese have never been ruled by the People's Republic of China, the mainland has made absorbing Taiwan a national crusade.
New Law Green Light's Attack
And China's new anti-secession law now gives the Chinese military the green light to attack Taiwan if the island pursues formal independence. Taiwan says the new law is tantamount to preparation for war.
And that could mean war for the United States, which has pledged to defend Taiwan.
Although most analysts say the U.S. would defeat the Chinese in a conventional conflict, the fighting might not remain conventional.
"At the end of the day China may gamble that China cares more about Taiwan than the United States does, and if the United States is faced a choice between backing down on Taiwan and seeing Chinese atomic bombs detonating over American cities, that the United States will back down," defense expert John Pike said.
How Might China Attack?
How might a Chinese attack unfold? The prospect of a giant Normandy-like invasion has been jokingly dismissed as the "million man swim" because China doesn't yet have enough naval vessels to transport a large invasion force across the Taiwan Strait.
Experts say a quick decapitation strike is more likely.
"China's strategy I think would be a missile attack on Taiwan's airfields, which are not well defended, hoping to seize air dominance," Pike added.
Allowing for the insertion of Special Forces who would seize key command and control sectors.
The publication Janes Defense suggests that Chinese sleeper cells already on the island would move into action, assassinating key leaders and attacking radar and communication facilities.
It says China might even preemptively hit U.S. bases in the pacific, believing war with the U.S is inevitable. Chinese forces would then seek to install a new government within a week, one that would tell the U.S. Navy to go home.
Dan Blumenthal was senior director for China and Taiwan under Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld.
"Beijing strategists are thinking about it this way: Taiwan will fold quickly. That you can make them come to their knees quickly, not necessarily by invading Taiwan, but by launching ballistic missiles at Taiwan, there are many many pointed at Taiwan right now," Blumenthal said.
"By trying to bring down their critical infrastructure. By making it seem like the Taiwan government has lost control. Using Information and computer network attacks. Blockading the island, starving it from its economic resources," he added.
Pike said Taiwan's strategy is to wait.
"I think that Taiwan's military strategy is to hold out for the week that it would take American forces to arrive in large numbers. China's military strategy has to be to have a government in power in Taipei before the end of that first week that tells the American military to go away, we're happy that we've rejoined China," he said.
China's Art of War
But China also hopes to win without ever firing a shot.
The Chinese military classic The Art of War says that the height of military skill is to conquer without the use of military force, and that seems to be precisely what China is trying to do to Taiwan.
China employs a skillful version of the carrot and the stick, aiming 700 ballistic missiles at the island while building trade and cultural ties with it.
Some feel that time is on Beijing's side, and peaceful unification is inevitable. But from a military standpoint Taiwan is too strategically important to simply give to China. And if the U.S. doesn't intervene on Taiwan's behalf, there are growing indications that Japan just might.
U.S. 'Make sure such a war never starts'
Blumenthal said the U.S. needs to make sure such a war never start in the first place.
"Making it clear to the Chinese that this is a disastrous course for them, if they want to become a great power, a great economic power, this will backfire on them in a very big way," he said.
And it could backfire in a way most analysts never expected. Beijing has made unification such a big deal, that if it fails to defeat Taiwan and the United States, its tremendous loss of credibility in the eyes of its own people could shake the nation to its very core.
Blumenthal doesn't mince words.
"If the Chinese government goes down this path and loses, I think that it's likely that the government will fall," he said.
Taiwan Vows Counterstrike
And Taiwan might not be the pushover that Beijing assumes it is. Taiwan has some of America's best weaponry, and has vowed a counter strike against Chinese cities if it is attacked.
"There's always the possibility that somebody on one side or the other is going to misread the situation and suddenly we find ourselves in a much more serious crisis than anybody had anticipated," Pike said.
Washington hopes Beijing is aware of the risks, because experts say a war over Taiwan is simply too dangerous to be fought.