China celebrated the 70th anniversary of its navy on 23 April by showing off its growing fleet in a sea parade featuring a brand new guided-missile destroyer.

Under grey, foggy skies, Chinese President Xi Jinping stood on a warship to take the salute from 32 Chinese vessels, including submarines, and 39 planes off the eastern city of Qingdao. China also took the occasion to unveil the Nanchang, a 10,000-ton class guided-missile destroyer.

Ships from 13 other countries including Russia, Thailand, Vietnam and India also took part in the parade.

Vietnam and other countries in the region frequently complain about China’s activities in the disputed South China Sea, where Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations.

Xi told foreign delegations attending the naval event that China would ‘unswervingly stay on the path of peaceful development,’ according to the official Xinhua news agency. All countries should promote ‘proper’ solutions to maritime disputes, Xi said.

Absent from the celebrations was the US Navy, which had said it would not participate. During similar celebrations a decade ago, the US sent missile destroyer the USS Fitzgerald, which joined an international fleet review.

China is racing to modernise its People’s Liberation Army, with Xi calling for the country to have a ‘world-class’ military by mid-century. Its sole operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is a repurposed Soviet ship bought from Ukraine which went into service in 2012.

Another domestically-made carrier is still undergoing sea tests to add more firepower to the naval fleet.