SANYA, April 12 (Xinhua) -- President Xi Jinping reviewed the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in the South China Sea Thursday morning, saying that the need to build a strong navy "has never been more urgent than today."
The navy review is the largest of its kind in the People's Republic of China since its founding in 1949.
Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), called for efforts to build a first-class navy.
Taking part in the review were more than 10,000 service personnel, 48 vessels and 76 aircraft. They included the aircraft carrier Liaoning and latest submarines, vessels and fighter jets. More than half of the vessels were commissioned after the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012.
At around 9 a.m., Xi, clad in military fatigues, boarded the missile destroyer Changsha. Flags flew. The military band played the national anthem. Xi inspected the guard of honor on the deck before the destroyer set sail to where the review was to be conducted.
At 10 a.m., navy commander Shen Jinlong and political commissar Qin Shengxiang reported that the fleets were ready for review.
Xi gave the commencing order.
Vessels sailed in seven groups according to their combat functions: strategic strike, submerged attack, open-sea operations, aircraft carrier strike, amphibious landing, offshore waters defense, and comprehensive support.
Helicopters and planes flew in ten echelons. They can perform surveillance, warning, air-to-air strike, air-to-ship strike, long distance escort and other duties.
Soldiers saluted Xi as their fleets passed by.
"Salute to you, comrades," Xi called out to the soldiers.
"Hail to you, chairman," they replied.
Xi alternated the greeting with "Comrades, thanks for your hard work," to which soldiers replied "Serve the people."
The procession was directed by CMC Vice Chairman Xu Qiliang. Other senior military officials -- Zhang Youxia, Wei Fenghe, Li Zuocheng, Miao Hua, and Zhang Shengmin were all present.
"It is my utmost honor to be inspected by Chairman Xi," said Ma Xiaohui, a navy soldier. "I will maintain momentum, train hard, and always be Chairman Xi's good soldier."
Liu Furong, commander of an underwater attack combat group, said the review was a good demonstration of the navy's "historic achievements" under Xi's call for building strong armed forces.
Xi made a speech after the review, saying that it has always been China's aspiration to have a strong navy, which serves as a key guarantee to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
He pledged to speed up the modernization of the navy.
Xi said notable progress has been made and today's Chinese navy has "stood up in the East" with a brand new image.
"The Party and the people are proud of the PLA Navy," Xi said.
He asked naval officers and soldiers to fully implement the Party's absolute leadership over the armed forces, be firm in ideals and convictions, and uphold the glorious traditions, while pushing for technological innovation, developing new types of battle forces, and building a modern maritime combat system.
Xi asked naval officers and soldiers to remain on high alert, answer the calls of the Party and the people at all times, resolutely defend the national interests, and strive to contribute more to upholding the peace and stability of the region and the world.
The officers and soldiers reacted with long applause.
Later, Xi watched four J-15 fighter jets take off from the aircraft carrier.
At the end, Xi went to the chart room and wrote down his name in the logbook.
Xi had lunch with soldiers in a canteen and asked about their life and training.
Immediately after Xi left, the navy launched a full-scale live drill.
Liu Zhe, captain of the aircraft carrier Liaoning, said the carrier will leave for new waters to conduct combat drills.
"I am lucky to have witnessed the navy's great leap in development," he said. "We should keep working hard and dedicate ourselves to building a first-class navy."