Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao sought to reassure Southeast Asia on Friday about his country's peaceful intentions towards the region, pledging to deepen trade and economic ties with a part of the world which has looked nervously at China's ambitions.

Meeting with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, Wen said China valued its ties with the bloc.

The China-ASEAN relationship is solidly based and has great potential and a promising future, he said, a statement posted on the central government's website (www.gov.cn) reported.

China will forever be a good neighbour, good friend and good partner of ASEAN. We will work closely with you to implement all the agreements we have reached to bring more benefit to our people and make greater contributions to peace and prosperity in our region, Wen added.

The statement made no mention of contention over the South China Sea, a large swathe of which is claimed by China.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei are the other claimants to parts of the sea, and along with the United States and Japan, are pressuring Beijing to try and seek some way forward on the knotty issue of sovereignty, which has flared up again this year with often tense maritime stand-offs.

While the White House says U.S. President Barack Obama will bring up the issue at another summit on Saturday, also in Bali, China has said it does not want it discussed, preferring to deal with the problem bilaterally amongst the states directly involved.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told reporters the South China Sea was discussed in the meeting with Wen, and that China had sent positive signals about further discussing the code of conduct for the waters.

I think this is an important development, the minister added.

In July, China and Southeast Asian countries agreed on a preliminary set of guidelines in the South China Sea, a rare sign of cooperation in a row that has plagued relations in the region for years.

Wen did say, however, that China would expand practical maritime cooperation by setting up a joint fund to promote cooperation in marine research and environmental protection, connectivity, navigation safety, search and rescue, and combating transnational crimes.

An Indonesian official said on Thursday the fund would be worth 3 billion yuan (299 million pounds), though the Chinese statement provided no further details.

Wen added that China and ASEAN should step up cooperation in the financial field, by increasing the use of local currency swaps and encourage the quoting of China's yuan and ASEAN currencies in each other's interbank foreign exchange.

The world is undergoing profound and complex changes. The global economy may experience uncertainty and instability for a long time to come, he said.

China and ASEAN should be both confident and sober-minded, keep our destiny firmly in our own hands and advance in the direction we have set to pursue our goal.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Olivia Rondonuwu)