Authors: Carmen Cox
(WASHINGTON) -- As China's first aircraft carrier takes to the open seas Wednesday for its inaugural sea trials, the U.S. government directed a pointed question at the Chinese military: Why would you need a warship like that?
"We would welcome any kind of explanation that China would like to give for needing this kind of equipment," U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters Wednesday. "We have had concerns for some time and we've been quite open with them with regard to the lack of transparency from China regarding its power projection and its lack of access and denial of capabilities."
Nuland said the State Department is concerned that the Chinese military is not "transparent" enough about its build-up which, in addition to the aircraft carrier, also includes the development of a fifth-generation stealth jet fighter believed to be capable of rivaling America's best.
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng told reporters in China last month the ship, which was built from the shell of an old Soviet carrier, is only "for the purposes of technological research, experiments and training."
But in June, another official with the Chinese Defense Ministry told a Hong Kong newspaper the vessel represented more than a training opportunity.
"All of the great nations in the world own aircraft carriers -- they are symbols of a great nation," Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo, assistant chief of the general staff, told the Hong Kong Commercial Daily.
At the time, the U.S. Department of Defense told ABC News it was well aware of Chinese ambitions to build not one, but multiple aircraft carriers as part of an effort to modernize its military. The U.S. will "maintain the military capabilities necessary to protect our interests, defend our allies, and deter potential adversaries from acts of aggression and intimidation," a spokesperson said then.
The development of the carrier comes as China has expanded its rhetoric regarding its claims in the South China Sea -- where as many as six Asian countries have claimed overlapping territorial waters -- while telling the U.S. to stay out of it.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio