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Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech during a high-level event in the Assembly Hall at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse


By Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - China will build a new model of relations with the United States as part of its creation of a "circle of friends" around the world, President Xi Jinping said in a speech at the United Nations in Geneva on Wednesday.

His speech, the finale of a Swiss trip that included a state visit and topping the bill at the World Economic Forum in Davos, was intended to highlight a Chinese interest in playing a cooperative role in international affairs.

"We always put people's rights and interests above everything else and we have worked hard to develop and uphold human rights," he said. "China will never seek expansion, hegemony or sphere of influence."

Human rights groups and Western governments have accused China of widespread human rights abuses. Beijing has also been accused by smaller neighbours of expansionist ambitions in the South China Sea but denies such charges.

"Big countries should treat smaller countries as equals instead of acting as a hegemon imposing their will on others.

"We will strive to build new model of major country relations with the United States, a comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination with Russia, a partnership for peace, growth, reform and among different civilizations," he said.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump was particularly critical of China during his election campaign, accusing it of exploiting the United States economically. He also raised concern by taking a telephone call after his election from the president of Taiwan which Beijing regards as a renegade province.

Xi called for unity on climate change and the fight against terrorism, as well as nuclear disarmament.

"The Paris agreement is a milestone in the history of climate governance. We must ensure this endeavour is not derailed...China will continue to take steps to tackle climate change and fully honour its obligations," Xi said.

China itself suffers serious air pollution but has pushed hard to develop "green" energy systems. President-elect Trump has cast doubt on accepted scientific wisdom that carbon emissions are driving a rise in global temperatures.

The deep sea, the polar regions, outer space and the Internet should be new frontiers for cooperation rather than a wrestling ground for competition, he said.

(Reporting by Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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