2000 PRC war college pub comes up with a goal of being able to engage the US militarily by 2029
2001 RGMCF mentions this to MMR conference, notes that this goal requires a blue water ability and this goal will be recognizable if PRC's high-end blue water fleet starts growing.
2010: CJCS finds out about this too.
I'm being disingenuous. ADM Mullen has been paying close attention since he was a two-star (and probably earlier, but that's the first time I met him).
Mullen reiterates his concern over China’s military buildup - News - Stripes