The head of China's General Staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has confirmed that China's first aircraft carrier is under construction.Gen Chen Bingde refused to say when the carrier - a remodelled vessel from Ukraine, the Varyag - would be ready.
A member of his staff said the carrier would pose no threat to other nations.
The carrier, which is being built in the north-east port of Dalian, has been one of China's worst-kept secrets, analysts say.
Gen Chen made his comments to the Chinese-language Hong Kong Commercial Daily newspaper.
Symbol of power The PLA - the largest army in the world - is hugely secretive about its defence programme.
The 300m (990ft) carrier is thought to be nearly finished, and is expected to begin sea trials later this year.
But the BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing says that does not mean it will then be ready to undertake operational duties.
Learning how to operate it - and fly planes off it - will take a few more years to master, our correspondent says.
Lt Gen Qi Jianguo, assistant chief of the general staff, told the Hong Kong Commercial Daily that even after the aircraft carrier was deployed, it would "definitely not sail to other countries' territorial waters".
"All of the great nations in the world own aircraft carriers - they are symbols of a great nation," he was quoted as saying.
China is engaged in maritime border disputes with neighbouring nations. But Lt Gen Qi said China had always followed a "defensive" principle for its military strategy.
"It would have been better for us if we acted sooner in understanding the oceans and mapping out our blue-water capabilities earlier.
"We are now facing heavy pressure in the oceans whether in the South China Sea, East China Sea, Yellow Sea or the Taiwan Straits," he said, referring to waters where China is engaged in disputes.
Hong Kong recruits In another first, Gen Chen said citizens of Hong Kong, the former British colony, could join the PLA.
Lt Gen Qi added that allowing Hong Kong recruits to join the PLA would be feasible "if the Hong Kong government resolves the legal issues".
The mainland's Military Service Law is not part of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution agreed during the handover from British to Chinese rule.
Analysts doubted whether Hong Kong people would fit in with the PLA ethos; others suggested thought should be given to forming an auxiliary force.
The Chinese army provokes ambivalent reactions among people in Hong Kong. Some recall its role in crushing pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Others have welcomed its largely invisible presence in Hong Kong since it replaced British troops stationed in Hong Kong until 1997.