U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says a flourishing civil society and free media are key to China's development.

On one of his last visits to Beijing as U.N. leader, Ban also said he stressed to Foreign Minister Wang Yi that all countries with rival claims to the South China Sea should settle their differences peacefully.

An international arbitration panel is expected to rule next week on the validity of China's claim to virtually all of the sea, in a case brought by the Philippines.

Wang told a joint news conference with Ban on Thursday that China also wants a "peaceful resolution," but the arbitration ruling would "only escalate the disputes and tensions."

Ban said he encouraged China's leaders to allow civil society "to play its crucial role."