It's another sign of China's growing assertiveness and its desire to become a deep-water power. Beijing says it wants to extend its naval capabilities so it can protect its trade routes in distant waters. But other governments remain concerned about what it could mean for sea boundary disputes, rivalry for resources and China's claims to Taiwan.
Presenter: Joanna McCarthy
Speaker: June Tuefel Dryer, professor of political science at the University of Miami and former Asia Advisor to the US Chief of Naval Operations
JUNE TUEFEL DREYER: Actually, I don't. I imagine some will, but I think the Chinese Government has a tendency to misestimate what the world is going to say and I think you saw another example of that with the Olympics where the Chinese insisted on a precedent-breaking running of the torch through all these countries and seemed genuinely surprised that a lot of hostility against China broke out.
JOANNA McCARTHY: Well, China, in the past, has always kept a fairly low profile in regard to its naval build-up so what's changed?
JUNE TUEFEL DREYER: I think that the Chinese really want to make their debut on the international stage and certainly China is treated as a tremendously respected international actor and they feel that they should be able to play a part commensurate with that. As you said in your introduction, they have a legitimate concern about being able to protect their trade routes, particularly if there is a confrontation with some other power, particularly a powerful one such as Japan or the United States which might seek to interdict the energy supplies going in and of course that would have a terribly bad effect on China's economic growth rate.
JOANNA McCARTHY: Well, there is of course a lot of speculation on the question but what are the intentions behind China's naval build-up, beyond protecting its trade routes, in your view?
JUNE TUEFEL DREYER: I do think that they want to create a situation where they are not challenged by any other power because the other power would realise it's simply too dangerous to do so and that would include Vietnam, it would include Japan, it would include Taiwan and the United States. They have been testing, apparently it's not yet operational, a very menacing weapon with the capability to destroy US aircraft carriers, for example.
JOANNA McCARTHY: China has also flagged its intention to build an aircraft carrier - it's been talking about this for some time and there's now speculation that it will announce it this week. How important is that to its overall maritime strategy?
JUNE TUEFEL DREYER: In a way, it's very important but other people would see it as basically symbolic. It's also awfully expensive. I once had - and I should say that this was an American air force person say this - but he described the aircraft carrier as the self-licking ice cream cone because it's not just the carrier which is very expensive, it's in the several billion dollars a copy, but you have to accompany it with submarines and supply ships and frigates and so on and so forth and there are actually some Chinese naval analysts who argue that this is not a good idea for the Chinese navy. They should be - it's an outmoded technology and what they should be doing is putting more money into research and development and outer space and cyber space and nanotechnology and so on.
JOANNA McCARTHY: And for all of Beijing's intentions, are they still a long way off building a naval force that's comparable to that of the United States?
JUNE TUEFEL DREYER: Yes, indeed. It's a significant way off but on the other hand we shouldn't downplay the significance of their having come as far as they have very quickly.