Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to always use peaceful means in pursuit of Beijing's goals, including in maritime disputes, just days after US President Barack Obama warned of the dangers of outright conflict in Asia.
"China remains unshakable in its resolve to pursue peaceful development. Neither turbulence nor war serves the fundamental interests of the Chinese people," Xi said on Monday, addressing the Australian parliament.
"There's only one trend in today's world, that is, the trend of peace and development and win/win cooperation."
China is locked in disputes with four Southeast Asian countries over outcrops in the South China Sea, and with Japan over another set of islets.
"A review of history shows that countries that attempted to pursue development with force invariably failed," Xi said. "China is dedicated to upholding peace. Peace is precious and needs to be protected."
But he added: "We must always be on high alert against the factors that may deprive us of peace."
The leaders of the US, Australia and Japan on Sunday called for the peaceful settlement of the maritime disputes. The day before, Obama had warned of "disputes over territory - remote islands and rocky shoals - that threaten to spiral into confrontation".
Open to dialogue
Xi said he was open to dialogue.
"It is China's longstanding position to address peacefully its disputes with countries concerned and territorial sovereignty and maritime interests through dialogue and consultation," he said.
"China has settled land boundary issues with 12 out of its 14 neighbours through friendly consultation. And we will continue to work in this direction," Xi said.
"The Chinese government is ready to enhance dialogue and cooperation with relevant countries to maintain freedom of navigation and the safety of maritime routes, and ensure a maritime border of peace, tranquillity and cooperation."
Xi made the comments as he sealed a long-awaited free trade agreement with Australia - a country that has long profited from China's voracious demand for its natural resources - after nearly a decade of talks.