China has always insisted the dispute in the South China Sea should be resolved peacefully through talks but the government has a responsibility to protect the country's sovereignty and maritime rights, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Saturday.
China has overlapping claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.
Its land reclamation work in the sea has raised concern in the region about its intentions, and last week a U.S. warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of one of Beijing's man-made islands in the contested Spratly archipelago.
Speaking at the National University of Singapore, Xi said freedom of passage in the South China Sea has never been a problem and will never be a problem.
Asian countries should resolve security problems using peaceful methods, he said.