9 Aug, 2022
International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor on Monday acknowledged that she and her visiting United States counterpart, Antony Blinken, were on opposite sides on several issues including Russia’s war against Ukraine but were committed to strengthening bilateral cooperation.
Pandor hosted the US secretary of state, who is in South Africa as part of a five-nation tour that includes Cambodia, the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. It is the first strategic dialogue between South Africa and the US in seven years.
“It is important that all of us accept our ability to hold different opinions. We are on a roll of sovereign nations that are regarded as equal in terms of the United Nations Charter,” she told journalists.
“We might differ in terms of economic power and economic ability to influence development in different parts of the world but what will make the world work is if we respect each other.”
In her opening remarks, Pandor refrained from making a direct reference to the Russian-Ukrainian war, on which South Africa has taken a neutral stance, but said: “We must continuously reinforce our common commitment to multilateralism, democracy and human rights — and use the proven tools of diplomacy, peace-building dialogue and mediation to resolve conflict and end the intolerable and unnecessary human suffering as a result of wars and other forms of conflict.
“We also hope that more of us are persuaded that reform of the UN, especially the UNSC [United Nations Security Council], is urgently necessary.”
South Africa abstained from casting its vote on a UN general assembly vote to suspend Russia from its human rights council for committing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine in mid-April. Instead, it accused the security council of not upholding its mandate of ensuring international peace and security.
After Monday’s meeting with Blinken, Pandor said the US had not come to tell South Africa “either you choose this, or else”.
“America is not asking us to choose. I don’t recall any attempt by the United States to do that. But in terms of our interaction with some of our partners in Europe and elsewhere, there has been a sense of patronising bullying toward you choose this, or else. I definitely will not be bullied in that way,” she said.
Pandor dismissed accusations that South Africa’s government has effectively chosen to side with Russia in the war, describing that country as a “very negligible economic partner for South Africa”.
“Our trade with Russia is less than $4-billion annually, compared to the $20-billion with respect to the United States. So this fear that exist[s] under some … is really unfounded,” she said.
Blinken said the two countries’ bilateral relationships were driven by a range of global issues, including regional security problems, the future of multilateralism, Covid-19, climate change and global food security.
“We’ve seen the repercussions of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which are felt across the planet, especially across Africa and in rising food and energy prices,” he said.
“We supported the efforts by the United Nations in Turkey to broker a deal so that Ukraine can start shipping all of the agricultural commodities that have been held back by Russia blocking their export, and we’re committed to helping as many people as possible suffering from rising food insecurity.
“We did not want the Russian aggression against Ukraine, we tried very hard to diplomatically ward it off, because that’s not how we want to be spending our time.”
Blinken said he believed South Africa and the US had “the shared desire” to focus their time, energy, attention and resources on various issues, but suggested there were repercussions to not taking a stand against aggression.
“If we allow a big country to bully a smaller one, to simply invade it and take its territory, then it’s going to be open season, not just in Europe, but around the world,” he said. “We have to defend the proposition that sovereignty and independence matter. They matter to Ukrainians, and it matters to the world.”
Blinken’s three-day visit to South Africa will end on Tuesday.