Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday vowed always to 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.
Addressing the Australian parliament in an honor bestowed only on one other Chinese leader, Hu Jintao in 2003, Xi said: "China remains unshakeable in its resolve to pursue peaceful development."
"Neither turbulence nor war serves the fundamental interests of the Chinese people."
"There's only one trend in today's world, that is, the trend of peace and development and win/win cooperation," he added in a candid address in which he also reminisced about kangaroos and koala encounters during previous visits to Australia.
The Chinese president evoked history to make the point that no one ever benefited from conflict, after Obama at the weekend G20 summit in Brisbane again stressed that Beijing must be a responsible actor on the world stage.
China is locked in disputes with four Southeast Asian countries over lonely 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 through a translator. "This is what history teaches us. 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".
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," added Xi.
"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, tranquility 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.
In his speech, the Chinese leader pointed to the opportunities his country's giant economy offered the world, and pledged to continue the "win/win strategy" of opening up and developing a modern economy.
"With over 1.3 billion people, China is a market of immense potential," he said.
"The enormous progress China has made in reform and opening up in the last 30 years and more is possible both because of its own hard work and also an inclusive and open Asia-Pacific region."
But he also acknowledged Australian concerns about engagement with his country.
Xi said that while many applauded China's achievements, others "find fault with everything China does" — something he said was to be expected given the nation's huge population.
"It is like the big man in the crowd," he said, adding others were concerned about which way it would move.
Xi, making a state visit following the G20 summit, also reminisced about previous trips Down Under before he assumed his role as one of the world's most powerful figures.
"I have visited five states and two territories of Australia, except Tasmania. These visits have left a great impression on me," he said.
"And I still cherish vivid memories of a strange-looking kangaroo, the cute koala, flocks of white sheep, the ingenious Sydney Opera House, and the boundless expanses of the outback."
Ahead of his parliamentary address, Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan were introduced to a 10-month-old baby wombat named Walnut before viewing kangaroos from a golf buggy near Canberra. AFP