(Bloomberg) -- Chinese leader Xi Jinping indicated his nation would be a bigger voice for the world’s developing economies, underscoring his campaign to offer an alternative to US leadership.

“China has always regarded solidarity and cooperation with African countries as an important cornerstone of our foreign policy,” Xi told Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio on a visit to Beijing, the official Xinhua News Agency reported late Wednesday.

The Chinese president said both nations should boost their coordination in the UN Security Council and “jointly safeguard the interests of Africa and developing countries.” China is a permanent member of the council, and Sierra Leone has a non-permanent seat.

China under Xi has been stepping up efforts to appeal to emerging economies in the so-called Global South, nations spanning South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. He has also cast his signature Belt and Road Initiative as a sweeping alternative to the US-led world order; pushed to expand the BRICS bloc; and presented his nation as a peacemaker amid the fighting in Ukraine and Gaza.

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In a speech last year to mark the 10th anniversary of the global infrastructure push, Xi criticized unilateral sanctions, geopolitical rivalry and bloc politics. While he didn’t identify any country, the remarks were clear references to US policy toward China in recent years, which Washington has characterized as de-risking but Beijing sees as an effort to thwart its rising power.

China has sought to cultivate influence among African nations for decades, and holds up railroad and other projects built by its companies as benefiting the continent. The US has said China’s loans to emerging market-economies mire them in debt.  

Chinese diplomats have disputed the idea that the nation seeks greater influence in the Global South in the past. When asked about Xi’s comments at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said that her nation stood for “justice, fairness and common interests.”

“We do not interfere in others’ internal affairs and uphold the development space of developing countries,” she said.

Later this year, Beijing will host the next round of the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation. China touts the platform founded in 2000 and including some 53 African nations as a display of its multilateral approach to world affairs. Beijing has an influential role in setting the forum’s agenda and hosted two of its three leaders’ summits so far.

Focac started largely as forum focused on trade but under Xi that’s been expanded to include topics such as security and ideology.

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--With assistance from Colum Murphy.

(Updates with comments from China’s Foreign Ministry.)

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