Xi Jinping inspects massive naval parade in South China Sea

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Chinese President Xi Jinping reviews a naval parade Thursday in the South China Sea.

(CNN) — China has held its largest military drills in the hotly contested South China Sea, according to the country's defense ministry, culminating in a naval parade Thursday overseen by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

At least 10,000 personnel took part in the drills, which involved 48 naval vessels and 76 fighter jets, the ministry said.

Speaking aboard the Chinese destroyer Changsha, Xi called for further modernization of the country's navy into a "world-class force" and emphasized the Chinese Communist Party's leadership over the military.

China's only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, took part in the parade with a display of J-15 fighter jets under Xi's observation.

The South China Sea has long been a flashpoint in Asia. The Chinese government claims a huge swath of territory across the sea, overlapping with claims of the Philippines and Vietnam, among others.

A series of live-fire military drills in the region had been expected after satellite photos showed the Liaoning and a large number of navy vessels operating in the region on March 26.

Experts told CNN at the time the sheer number of ships on display was a "show of force" from Beijing in the politically sensitive region.

On Friday the maritime safety administration for Hainan province announced a weeklong ban on all ships in the sea because of "military training."

At a press briefing in March, the defense ministry refused to confirm or deny the drills or which ships would be involved.

In a foreshadowing of future drills, the Fujian provincial maritime authority on Thursday announced live-fire naval exercises for Wednesday in the Taiwan Strait.

The Chinese exercises are taking place amid rising tensions between Beijing and Washington over trade, but analysts have also expected the Trump administration to harden its policy on the South China Sea.

A U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, arrived Wednesday in Manila, Philippines, for what was described as a "scheduled port visit."

The U.S. Navy recently conducted several "freedom of navigation" operations with warships sailing near increasingly militarized man-made Chinese islands in the South China Sea, triggering strong protests from Beijing.

Earlier in the week, Xi gave a much anticipated speech at the annual Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan province on the northern edge of the South China Sea.

The forum is the Chinese equivalent of the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, involving high-level talks among economic leaders.

Speaking Tuesday, Xi promised a new phase of economic "opening up" from China amid threats of a possible trade war with the United States. He also said China would stick to "the path of peaceful development" going forward.

This story was first published on CNN.com, "Xi Jinping inspects massive naval parade in South China Sea."