China already has an extensive navy
A senior Chinese defence official has told a British newspaper that any great power would want an aircraft carrier.
Major General Qian Lihua, director of the ministry's Foreign Affairs Office, said that if China had a carrier, it would not be used for "global reach".
His comments came amid speculation that China is building its first aircraft carrier, which he did not confirm.
China's growing naval strength is of interest in Taiwan and the South China Sea where China claims territory.
"The navy of any great power... has the dream to have one or more aircraft carriers," Maj Gen Qian said in the interview with the Financial Times newspaper.
"The question is not whether you have an aircraft carrier, but what you do with your aircraft carrier.
"Navies of great powers with more than 10 aircraft carrier battle groups with strategic military objectives have a different purpose from countries with only one or two carriers used for offshore defence," he said.
"Even if one day we have an aircraft carrier, unlike another country, we will not use it to pursue global deployment or global reach," the paper reported.
The newspaper reported that aides said it was the first interview arranged by the defence ministry on its own premises.
It added that though he did not mention the US by name, Maj Gen Qian pointedly contrasted the function of a possible Chinese vessel with the way the US Navy uses its 11 carriers.
The newspaper said Maj Gen Qian's reassurance may not convince those in the region concerned about the People's Liberation Army having a navy capable of carrying out long-range missions.
Maj Gen Qian declined to comment directly on whether China had decided to build a carrier, the FT reported.
"But in the defence ministry's most forthright statement yet on the issue he made clear that China had every right to do so," the newspaper said.
It reported the official as saying that it was "unreasonable" for the West to demand China contribute more to peacekeeping operations at the same time as curbing its military purchases and development.
"US and EU countries on one hand ask us to send more troops to peacekeeping operations overseas, while on the other, they still have such arms sales embargoes on China. I think that is quite unreasonable," Maj Gen Qian was reported to have said.
The Pentagon said this year that China was actively engaged in aircraft carrier research and would be able to start building one by the end of this decade.
Jane's Defence Weekly reported last month that the PLA was training 50 students to become naval pilots capable of operating fixed-wing aircraft from such a ship.
Earlier this year, the head of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Timothy Keating, was reported to have said that Chinese military leaders were intensely interested in such an acquisition.
In March 2007, a Beijing-backed Hong Kong newspaper reported that China could have its first aircraft carrier by 2010.