Victoria Yards, Johannesburg, South Africa – August 8, 2022
QUESTION: Sir, thank you. I really appreciate your time, Secretary Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to be with you.
QUESTION: It is an absolute honor for me to speak to you. So —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
QUESTION: — let me get straight to it, then. If I scan the media coverage of your visit, which is five countries, three of them on this continent of Africa, I see a variety of reporting about what the reasons are. France 24 will tell me: Blinken arrives in Africa to counter Russian influence on the continent. And I see a VOA telling me: Blinken heads to South Africa amid a new cold war. So in your own words, what are the aims and objectives of your visit to this country?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: None of the above; it’s not about any other place or country. It’s about Africa, it’s about the relationship between the United States and Africa, and it’s recognition of a few very powerful things. In just a couple of years’ time, half of the population of Africa will be 25 years old or younger. So this is one of the most youthful places on earth. By 2050, one in four people on our planet will be African. So this is the future.
And one of the things that we feel very strongly, President Biden feels very strongly, is there’s not a single challenge that we face – in the United States or anywhere around the world – that’s really affecting the lives of our people – like COVID, like climate, like the impact of all these emerging technologies that we have – that can be addressed by any one country acting alone. We have to do it in partnership, in cooperation, and the idea that we would try to meet these challenges without Africa makes absolutely no sense. So we see this as a relationship across the continent, here in South Africa, as absolutely central to the future, our common future that we have to try to build.
QUESTION: And my understanding is that you will have a Strategic Dialogue with your counterpart —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: — Minister Naledi Pandor. What does that entail?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, two things. First, I’ve had the great privilege of working with Foreign Minister Pandor, with Naledi, since I’ve been on the job. And she has been a wonderful colleague, partner. We are often sharing ideas, talking about issues not just between South Africa in the United States, not just Africa, but the entire world. South Africa’s voice is so important. It’s important in the United Nations; it’s important on the continent; it’s important globally.
Second, when President Biden and President Ramaphosa had a very good conversation a few months ago that went into tremendous detail and thought about the relationship, they talked about a few critical areas where it would be important for us to work even more closely together, particularly when it comes to climate, when it comes to global health, when it comes to investment, and when it comes to infrastructure. So what we’ve tried to do, based on what our two presidents agreed to, is to focus our Strategic Dialogue between us on those areas, because this is where we’re going to have the greatest impact on the lives of our citizens. How do we together make them a little bit healthier, a little bit more full of opportunity, a little bit safer and more secure? That’s what we’re working on together.
QUESTION: But let me suggest to you, Secretary Blinken, that the geopolitics and the issues that are currently at play will be hard for you to ignore, what with South Africa just a few days ago releasing its document about the national interest —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes.
QUESTION: — which is at the heart of our foreign policy. And therein, in explaining that, Minister Naledi Pandor alluded to this bill that has been passed by your Congress, the House of Representatives, and it’s called Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act. She is not pleased with that. She says basically this is seeking to, in her words, “punish” those countries that did not toe the line, that do not toe the line in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I can only speak for our administration and for the President. Our focus is not on saying to friends, partners: you have to choose. Our focus is on providing a choice. We have a very affirmative vision of what our partnerships, what our relationships can and should be around the world and in Africa. And part of my responsibility is not for us to just talk the talk, but actually to walk the walk, to demonstrate that we mean what we say when we really want to work in partnership with – not just saying we’re going to focus on certain areas, but actually doing it.
So a lot of what we’ll be talking about is how, together, we’re actually working on strengthening health care systems, how we’re creating capacity here in Africa – for example, not just producing vaccines for the future, but food security. This is something that’s touching people around the world right now. We’ve seen a dramatic rise in food insecurity, a result of COVID, a result of climate change, a result, unfortunately, of conflict – the Russian aggression against Ukraine has taken a lot of food off the market.
And what I’m hearing from so many partners around the continent is not only do – are people looking for assistance in the immediate, but even more important, looking to build self-sustaining indigenous capacity for food production. So this is one of the things that we’ll be talking about. South Africa is a leader on the continent for that. This is one of the things we’ll be trying to make real. I’m going to have a chance to speak in much more detail about how we see the partnership with Africa here in Johannesburg tomorrow.
QUESTION: And that’s important, especially for your administration, given the fact that there’s been this sense that the relationship with Africa had sort of taken a bit of a backseat in the last few years.
My last question to you, then. Let me ask you about events that happened in the days before your tour. The Speaker of the House of Representatives traveling to Taiwan, which has caused quite a – let me call it a debate – in various quarters. And has that complicated things for you, or has it expedited your reckoning, for lack of a better word, with the China question? Also throw in that context the fact that South Africa, again, is in this strategic relationship with a country like China.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think for many countries around the world – the United States and South Africa, a lot of them – we have complicated and consequential relationships with China. And, as I said before, our purpose is not at all to say: you have to choose between the United States and China or between the United States and anyone else. It’s to offer a real choice. And so that’s one of the things that we’ll be talking about.
I think with regard to what’s happened around Taiwan in recent days, the real issue is the extraordinary reaction or overreaction by China – a peaceful visit by a member of our legislative branch – many members of our Congress visit Taiwan – and then a military response from China sending missiles, ballistic missiles – 11 of them – five of them landed in the sea near Japan – maneuvers. That – there’s no equivalence between the two. And then, unfortunately, China saying that it was stopping cooperation, for example, with us on climate change, but that doesn’t punish the United States; that punishes the world, because the United States and China, the two largest emitters right now in the world, have a special responsibility to lead on climate change. So that’s very unfortunate and I hope that they change their mind on that.
QUESTION: All right. Secretary Blinken, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks. Very good to be with you. Appreciate it.