An Australian company is working directly with the Chinese navy to develop catamarans capable of firing missiles, an international policy institute says.
The company, AMD Marine Consulting, is a naval architectural and marine engineering consulting firm based in Sydney, which develops catamaran designs for ferries, utility vessels and patrol boats.
According to the Lowy Institute for International Policy, AMD has set up a joint venture called Sea Bus International with a Chinese company - GUMECO - working directly with the People's Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN).
PLAN has selected a military boat designed on the AMD 350 catamaran which is "markedly like" a new generation of missile-armed catamarans - Type 022 - being built for its navy, the institute's blog site The Interpreter said.
It says AMD is not breaking any laws and nor has it supplied actual weapons or designs for weapons through the joint venture company.
"But China's admirals, recognising that these hulls allow for speeds of up to 36 knots and a more stable platform for firing weapons, came calling," The Interpreter said.
"They were not turned away and Type 022s are now being turned out regularly, with possibly 30 of them built so far."
The Interpreter's editor Sam Roggeveen, a former senior strategic analyst in the Office of National Assessments - Australia's peak intelligence agency - says the Chinese vessels could pose a threat to the Australian navy in the event of a conflict, especially over Taiwan.
"Essentially these ships are designed to sink other ships," Mr Roggeveen told ABC Radio.
"If it ever came to a shooting war in Taiwan - and I am not saying this is likely but it is a possibility that a lot of strategic analysts point to - then there is a good chance if it came to that Australia would come in on the US side to defend Taiwan against Chinese military action.
"In that situation, it is quite plausible that Australia would send a naval contingent, and a naval contingent would be a direct threat from these catamarans which carry sea-skimming anti-ship missiles."
Mr Roggeveen said it was difficult to police companies who export products with the potential for military use.
"It is very difficult but just because it's blurry doesn't mean that there isn't a line."