Wen Jiabao sounds warning against interference in dispute with neighbours over potentially oil-rich South China Sea.
Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, has said "outside forces" had no excuse to get involved in a complex dispute over the South China Sea.
Wen, who spoke on Friday at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, gave a veiled warning to the US and others not to interfere in the sensitive issue.
But he also struck a softer line during the ASEAN summit by offering loans and saying China only wanted to be friends.
China already claim a large swathe of the South China Sea, which straddles key shipping lanes and is potentially rich in energy resources.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei are the other claimants to parts of the sea, and along with the US and Japan, are pressuring China to try and seek some way forward on the knotty issue of sovereignty, which has flared up again this year with often tense maritime confrontations.
The Chinese news agency reported Wen as saying "the dispute which exists among relevant countries in this region over the South China Sea is an issue which has built up for several years".
"It ought to be resolved through friendly consultations and discussions by countries directly involved. Outside forces should not, under any pretext, get involved," he said.
Japan has also expressed concern over the dispute, and India has become involved via an oil-exploration deal with Vietnam in the South China Sea.
Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian foreign minister, said that China had sent positive signals about further discussing the code of conduct for the waters.
"I think this is an important development," Natalegawa said.
The White House has said President Barack Obama, who is also in Bali, will bring up the issue at the summit.
China has said it does not want it discussed, preferring to deal with the problem bilaterally amongst the states directly involved.
Beijing accuses the US of trying to consolidate its own position in Southeast Asia.
Obama has agreed to to deploy up to 2,500 troops and boost air force co-operation with Australia.
China sees US action as a deliberate ploy to counterbalance the rise of China as an economic and military in the region.
Despite the disagreements over the South China Sea, China has been keen to deepen trade and economic ties with Southeast Asia, and has a free trade agreement with the bloc.
"The China-ASEAN relationship is solidly based and has great potential and a promising future," Wen said in his speech.
To this end, Wen said China would offer $10bn in loans, on top of a pledge $15bn of loans made two years ago.
China will also set up a $473 million fund to expand practical maritime co-operation by promoting cooperation in environmental protection, navigational safety and combating transnational crimes.
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