China wants to send a message to its neighbours that it will not exchange territorial integrity for temporary good relations, with its defence minister telling visiting Japanese officials that the nation will forge ahead with its aircraft carrier plan, experts say. The remarks by General Liang Guanglie, the highest-ranking Beijing official to touch on the sensitive issue, are also seen as a sign of an imminent announcement that China will build its first aircraft carrier. General Liang told Japan's defence minister, Yasukazu Hamada, on Friday that 'China cannot be without an aircraft carrier forever'. 'China is the only major country in the world that doesn't have an aircraft carrier,' he told Xinhua. His remarks caused a buzz in Japan and overseas over the weekend. Although his comments did not come as a huge surprise given the intense speculation in the past few months over China's plan to build an aircraft carrier, analysts said their timing and setting were carefully crafted to take account of maritime disputes with neighbours. China's disputes with Japan and its Southeast Asian neighbours recently escalated as countries around the world scrambled to submit details regarding the delineation of their national maritime boundaries to the United Nations before May 13, as required by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso said last month that the Diaoyu Islands were under Japan's administrative jurisdiction, triggering a diplomatic row. The Diaoyus dispute was believed to be a major reason behind the cancellation of Mr Aso's trip to Beijing, planned for this month. Niu Zhongjun, an associate professor at China Foreign Affairs University, said that by raising the aircraft carrier issue with his Japanese counterpart, General Liang might have intended to declare China's determination to forge ahead with its military modernisation. The diplomatic undercurrents also involve China's maritime borders with Southeast Asian countries. The dispute over the South China Sea with the Philippines prompted China to send its biggest fishery patrol ship to the Paracel and Spratly islands. Shen Shishun, director of the department of Asia-Pacific security and co-operation at the China Institute of International Studies, said General Liang's remarks, which almost constituted a confirmation, would serve as a signal to other countries that China would stand ready to protect its sovereignty. 'China has given an impression that it is very restrained in handling the South China Sea disputes through diplomatic negotiation, because it doesn't want to ruin relationships with neighbours,' Professor Shen said. 'But the remarks are a message that China doesn't only use its mouth to protect its sovereignty.' China's plan to build an aircraft carrier has been the focus of immense attention at home and abroad since Defence Ministry spokesman Huang Xueping said in December it was seriously considering the idea.