China will not remain the world's only major nation without an aircraft carrier indefinitely, state press Monday cited the nation's defence minister as telling his Japanese counterpart.
Liang Guanglie made the remarks to visiting Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada on Friday, the Oriental Morning Post said, in discussions that took place after a recent spike in tension in the South China Sea.
"Among the big nations only China does not have an aircraft carrier. China cannot be without an aircraft carrier forever," the paper quoted Liang as saying, citing Japanese official sources.
"China's navy is currently rather weak, we need to develop an aircraft carrier."
Liang's comment is the highest-level recent confirmation that China aims to acquire an aircraft carrier, a sophisticated piece of military hardware that can be used to project power far beyond a nation's shores.
It comes after several similar calls in recent months by senior members of the People's Liberation Army.
"Building aircraft carriers is a symbol of an important nation. It is very necessary," the China Daily quoted Admiral Hu Yanlin as saying earlier this month.
"China has the capability to build aircraft carriers and should do so."
In December, defence ministry spokesman Huang Xueping told reporters that China would "seriously" consider getting an aircraft carrier.
Defence Minister Liang was speaking after Chinese vessels confronted and nearly collided with a US naval surveillance ship in what Washington says are international waters off south China earlier this month.
The confrontation was described by US intelligence director Dennis Blair as the most serious military incident involving the two powers since a US spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet in April 2001.
China said the US naval ship Impeccable was carrying out illegal activities in its exclusive economic zone.
Beijing has also reacted angrily to a Philippine law passed earlier this month that laid claim to parts of the Spratlys Islands in the South China Sea which are claimed by China and other nations in the region.
China called the law "illegal and invalid," and dispatched a civilian patrol boat to the region.