Beijing: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday urged China to create a space for civil society so that environmental activists and human rights lawyers "can act as a catalyst for social progress and economic growth". "As China continues along the path of transformation and reform, I encourage China's leaders to create the space needed for the civil society to play its crucial role," Ban said while addressing a press conference in Beijing along with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who remained silent on the matter. Ban's statements come a year after the Chinese government's massive crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists, of whom at least 23 remain under arrest, Efe news reported. Ban also spoke in favour of freedom of expression and press freedom, which would help the state to evolve and ensure that it complied with its responsibilities. With regards to another delicate issue -- the maritime disputes between China and its neighbours, the secretary general discreetly urged Beijing to resolve them peacefully, without putting the region at risk.