(Reuters) – China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang proposed a friendship treaty with Southeast Asian countries and offered $20 billion in loans on Thursday but held firm on the line that Beijing will only settle South China Sea disputes directly with other claimants.
China, Taiwan and four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have competing claims in the sea where concern is growing of an escalation in disputes.
“China … stands ready to become the first dialogue partner to sign with ASEAN a treaty of friendship and cooperation,” Li told leaders at an East Asian summit in Myanmar.
The treaty is seen as an attempt by China to dispel any notion it is a threat and Li said China was willing to make pacts with more countries on good-neighborliness and friendship.
Li also offered ASEAN countries $20 billion in preferential and special loans to develop infrastructure, an attractive proposition for a region struggling to fund the roads, ports and railways needed for growth.