President Xi Jinping inspected the navy's South Sea fleet in Sanya in the latest display of his consolidation of power over the army and China's military strength.
Xi urged soldiers to be better prepared for military struggle in the inspection on Tuesday, which was only reported by state and military media yesterday.
The visit came one day after Xi made an unprecedented visit to fishermen who spend most of their working lives in disputed waters in the South China Sea - a move seen as sending a message to China's neighbours involved in territorial disputes.
State-run CCTV reported yesterday that Xi paraded in an open-roof car and inspected vessels of the South China Sea fleet.
Among the vessels inspected were an unspecified "new-type" submarine and the Jinggangshan amphibious landing ship, which participated in a 16-day drill and patrol mission in the South China Sea that ended last week.
The ship visited James Shoal, close to the outer limits of China's "nine-dash line" from where it lays claim to the disputed waters that are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
Xi chatted with 20 women soldiers, among them five Uygurs from Xinjiang. During an inspection of a submarine and while eating lunch with marines, Xi said the living standard of troops had improved, but called on the army to endure hardship.
He was also reported to have ordered the navy to bear in mind the goal of building a strong army. He urged soldiers to "integrate their personal goals with the aims of building a strong military", and the navy to emphasise the need to "nurture fighting spirit".
Xi has made frequent visits to military commands of land, navy and air forces since taking the party helm in November.
The president's visits have included military commands in Guangzhou and an air force base in the Gobi Desert, and Xi's latest inspection further underlined Beijing's goal of becoming a maritime power as it expands its oceanic administration.
The State Ocean Administration issued a blueprint on maritime development yesterday, vowing to expand the scope of the protection of maritime rights with the purchase of new vessels and planes.
Regular campaigns are to be launched to protect fisheries vessels in the South and East China Seas as well as strengthen gas exploration in the disputed waters and Yellow Sea.
Other measures in the paper include formulating fiscal and tax policies for developing the maritime economy and participating in international maritime affairs.
Professor Wang Hanling , a maritime expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing would step up patrols in the disputed waters following the signing of a fishing-rights agreement between Taipei and Tokyo.
Additional reporting by Minnie Chan