Africa: Briefing With Senior State Department Officials to Traveling Press


London — Grosvenor House Hotel

London, United Kingdom

May 4, 2021

MODERATOR: So we’ll go ahead and get started. We’ll do this on background, two U.S. officials, if everyone is comfortable with that. As I think you all know, [Senior State Department Official One] was deeply engaged in the preparations for this and the G7. [Senior State Department Official Two] has been engaged on the bilateral aspect and in different areas as well.

So [Senior State Department Official One], if you want to start just with broad thoughts about the G7 and a quick sketch of the day today, and then maybe a preview of tomorrow, what’s to come. And then we’ll turn it over to [Senior State Department Official Two].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sure. So, obviously, today was the launch of the foreign minister and development minister G7 conference. We actually started last night. There was a dinner that the ministers had on their own, and literally with no notetakers, no one present. And the political directors met and we were continuing our negotiations on the communique which will be released at the end of the meeting.

And I’ll go through the schedule in a minute, but I just kind of want to underscore what the G7 represents. I mean, this is – obviously you know the membership of it, but this is an organization that goes back to the 1970s that brings probably the most likeminded group, at least of those countries of that caliber, most likeminded group on a planet together. And I think that the atmosphere that I observed today – and I’ve been to many of these G7 conferences in various capacities, probably five or six of them over the years – this is an incredibly positive and collegial gathering. People were very happy to get together physically. The British leadership and – of this year’s G7 was very well organized. Obviously, there were a lot of procedures and protocols we had to honor to make sure we’re all safe and healthy with COVID, so that changed the – some of the atmosphere unless there were fewer people around. But I just thought people were relieved to be able to get together and talk about the weighty issues that we all are confronting.

The program was held at the Lancaster House, which is, of course, a very impressive conference facility that – here in London. And we covered just an incredible range of issues. The phrases I heard throughout the day were about coherence, about collaboration, about cooperation. The emphasis was very much on shared values and shared goals. The ministers really – I can’t think of a single topic where there was a real disagreement of any meaning. Obviously at the – at our level we’re still working on the communique to get the language just right. Those things have to be worked out. But the atmosphere is just incredibly collaborative, and there was a lot of work that went into getting to this point, which I can go into if you’re interested in that. But I just – I said I’d go through the summary of topics today.

We started at 8:45 in the morning and we went through for an hour-and-a-half discussion of China, and then smaller sessions, 30-minute sessions on Myanmar, on Libya, on Syria; an hour and 30 minutes on Russia, including tackling Ukraine and Belarus; 30 minutes on Afghanistan, and that wrapped up the session of the ministers. And throughout this period we had breakout sessions in which we were able to do bilats, which I think [Senior State Department Official Two] will address.

And then tonight we’re going to be joined – the British theme of course, which I’ll come back to, is building back better and open society, but they also wanted to include, and we’re all enthusiastic about it, a component on the Indo-Pacific. So Australia, India, South Korea, South Africa, and the ASEAN chair Brunei will be joining for dinner tonight, and they’ll be attending throughout the schedule tomorrow as well. So tonight we’ll be hearing from them rather than talking to them about their priorities and how we can all cooperate in the Indo-Pacific.

Tomorrow’s schedule will bring in the development ministers virtually, and Administrator Samantha Power will be joining by videoconference, and we will discuss open societies, then we will have an open lunch discussion, and then in the afternoon vaccines and health priorities with one session, and then climate and girls’ education is another session, and then we’ll wrap things up.

As I said a moment ago, there is a lot of work that goes into these things. And just to give you a flavor for it, my colleague [Staff] is sort of the day-to-day negotiator, and at his level they have met every week since the British took the presidency in January to prepare what is now about a 90-page communique, which I know you’ll read every word of – (laughter) – and weigh carefully. But again, it reflects our shared values, how we see the world today.

And what’s interesting, again, about the G7 is that each of us has a global perspective, which is not true of every country in the world, and we all have things at stake and all the agenda topics that I just went through. So that’s why we had to discuss it on this regular basis to get ready for this. Political directors met three times as were preparing to come to London, and we have been in continuous contact since we got here in order to wrap things up and make sure that this was the best possible forum for the Secretary of State and his colleagues.

Obviously, we’re preparing for the summit that’s just going to be held in June, also virtually, here in the UK. And there’s going to be a second foreign ministerial meeting in late summer, early fall, with a focus on Africa and the development issues there. And the health ministers will be meeting as well just before the summit. I am not involved in those negotiations.

So those are the themes that we covered on today and be happy to answer any questions as I turn it over to [Senior State Department Official Two].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Sure. I can just add to what [Senior State Department Official One] was saying about the most likeminded group on the planet. I mean, this is – you hear the Secretary talk frequently about the world – the rules-based international order. And this is the group, of course, that has helped define that, these countries and others as well, and shape that and defend that. And so that was a theme I think that came up in a lot of the bilats. The great thing about this format is not only can they meet together, but then they can break out in smaller groups. We obviously started yesterday with a bilat with Foreign Secretary Raab that was two, two and a half hours I think we spent together, just going through the whole range of issues – international issues, global issues – that the U.S. and the UK work on together, as well as some of our bilateral issues.

The G7 itself, with the UK, as the Secretary put it, doing an absolutely terrific job in pulling this together in a difficult year, given the pandemic that creates all of these protocols but also is a major theme and focus of discussion. They talked about the broader scope of likeminded countries, speaking about things like open societies in the multilateral systems. That’s been the theme, and you’ve heard Secretary Blinken raise that repeatedly as his and President Biden’s focus on re-engaging, revitalizing partnerships and alliances, and even reimagining the kinds of things we can accomplish together, particularly in the transatlantic space.

I think the Secretary and foreign secretary found themselves, as they put it, in “violent agreement” on the agenda of things that we needed to look at. Another C word that could be added to the ones [Senior State Department Official One] used, like collaborative, would certainly be consensus in terms of things like China where we find the – convergence, actually, is another – C words abound – convergence among the G7 on the challenges of China and how we approach that.

Again, as I said, the international rules-based order was a main theme that came up in every one of the bilateral meetings that included EU high rep and Vice President Josep Borrell. These were short meetings. These are also opportunities – probably the third or fourth time they’ve had a chance to meet. They speak quite regularly. You’ll recall that the Secretary was with a number of these partners – the British, French, UK, and the Canadians, of course, too – at the NATO meetings just a couple weeks ago and the NATO ministerial in March when he also saw Borrell. And then they talked about the summit that will emerge not only at the G7 in June but the NATO summit the President will attend and the U.S.-EU meetings.

Those are really the primary themes. In each of the bilats we ran through the various subtopics; looking at Ukraine, for instance, where we’re all in agreement and stand in solidarity with Ukraine against Russian aggression, which is the external threat they face, but also the internal aggression that they face from corruption and the challenges of moving ahead on the reform process. So we all stand with the same messages there, and obviously the Secretary going to Kyiv from here will give him an opportunity to raise those points with President Zelenskyy and other interlocutors there.

Strong agreement across the board on that. Also on Russia. The Secretary was able to underscore what he and the President have said, that we want a stable, predictable relationship with Russia. We’re not trying to escalate, but that we will respond to their reckless and aggressive behavior. And as you’ve seen, we’ve had strong support from partners and allies in terms of our response to Russian actions.

In all of the meetings, we talked about Afghanistan. It was a clear topic with Foreign Minister Maas, the fact that you saw the Allies and others embrace the President’s decision for our troop pullout, but everybody underscored that that doesn’t mean we as nations in support of Afghanistan and the Afghan people are pulling out. We talked about stepping up our diplomacy, things the Secretary has referred to in other fora.

They also talked in each of those meetings about Iran. As you know, the EU has convened the talks in Vienna, for which the Secretary expressed thanks to them. We keep working on that. The French, British, and Germans are all part of the JCPOA process.

And we talked about Africa not only in the G7 contact but in some of the – context but in some of our – in each of the bilats, actually, whether it was the Horn of Africa, where we have a new special envoy, Jeff Feltman, including the Ethiopia-Sudan border issue, the Tigray issue. There’s a whole range of issues of great concern there. And France, of course, with a major focus on the Sahel; talked about the developments in Chad.

So really a great opportunity to just exchange notes, touch base on things that we’re engaged upon regularly, and then return to these broader sessions where they speak among the whole group. And that’s, I think, a good summary of what we covered in those. Can also take questions.

MODERATOR: Shaun.

QUESTION: Sure. Thanks for doing this. Could I ask a little bit more on China? You mentioned that there was quite a bit of agreement among all the countries. Was there any thought of doing things more collectively on China, sort of have a – having a broader – broader policy goals, whether it’s sanctions or not necessarily that or other things? Was there some talk of – beyond agreement of what countries can do together, and really just about – I think there’s news coming out today that the EU is not going forward with ratification of the investment pact with Beijing. Is that something that figured into the talks here? Or is there any broader take that you have on that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, China was the dominant topic today, I would say. We opened with it because it was the most important agenda item for us, out of the many important things that we had to discuss. And as I said, there was broad agreement, both the fact that we all want China to be an integral member of the international order, but to do that, it has to play by the rules of that international order. So no one’s asking people to choose to be with China or against China. It’s a question of ensuring that China is abiding by those rules and competing fairly with us.

But also there was a great deal of concern about China’s behavior in terms of human rights and honoring the commitments it itself has made through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other formats. This is not an internal affair. This is a matter of living up to international obligations that China signed up for, and there was a unanimity in the G7 on that score as well.

And also a great deal of concern about Chinese economic coercion, behavior that China – the story – the ways in which China uses economic initiatives to actually coerce their opponents or even, in some instances, their allies into certain behavior patterns that are unacceptable.

And, of course, China’s threatening and aggressive behavior in the South China Sea and other areas around its border. And again, there was a strong discussion of how we can – what we can do together to counter that, to build alliances, to recognize that these are shared concerns by all of us, not just the G7, but also how we can – and this goes to your question – how we can reach out to other likeminded states as we approach this problem. And I think that’ll be a very rich discussion tonight with the Indo-Pacific group.

And again, what we’re trying to do in the Indo-Pacific is about inclusivity, about making sure that there are robust alternatives to Chinese investment, that the West is present and offering the alternative path built on our model of development growth, of individuals and societies, not the Chinese model, which, again, I know you know well.

QUESTION: Sure. The investment pact – was that something that —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That broke I think – I first saw the – one of you probably sent it, the news on that, while we were at the prime minister’s. So that didn’t come up specifically today, but particularly with Borrell, they did recall in March they had relaunched the U.S.-EU dialogue on China, where we had developed a framework to discuss all these issues and talked about looking forward, probably in the coming weeks, to move ahead with a higher-level – not minister level, but another level – meeting of that. So that may come up too.

QUESTION: Can I – just two quickies, one on Nord Stream. I saw the readout of the Maas meeting, and it mentioned that you had – or the Secretary had brought up Nord Stream. Can you say whether that was just sort of a pro forma, hey, continuing to stress opposition, or whether there was any change in the German position or any movement on that score?

And then on China, is there anything you’re actually asking countries to do on economic coercion, certain commitments or certain dialogue that might proceed on that? And I think Daleep Singh had said one point in an interview that the U.S. was also looking for specific commitments from the G7 on cutting off trade on Xinjiang, specifically cotton from Xinjiang. Is that – was that part of the discussion today, seeking commitments from Europe?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Do you want to start?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Certainly. On the Nord Stream 2, as he has I think in every conversation with Foreign Minister Maas that I’ve been privy to, the Secretary raised Nord Stream 2 again, reminded him of our position on it and the legal requirements we have and the President’s views of that, and that this remains a real issue, clearly for us, obviously, in the context of a broader partnership, where we’re dealing with, as we’ve described here, lots and lots of other issues. But we are able, through these relationships that the Secretary has built in these first 100 days to engage with each of these counterparts and speak openly and clearly about areas where we have differences and concerns, Nord Stream 2 being one with the Germans, obviously.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: To answer the second question on economic coercion, one of the processes we’ve embarked on and included in our discussion today was building awareness of just what economic coercion looks like and being aware of a connectivity between certain Chinese actions and what their ultimate objective is in doing that. Some of the economic coercion is directed toward individuals who have stood up and spoken out against Chinese policies and then they try to use their economic power as a threat against people who do that and as a deterrent – a hoped-for deterrent against others doing likewise.

Another instance is it’s using their development strategies of the Belt and Road Initiative to basically make these societies highly dependent on China in ways that essentially compromise the sovereignty of those countries. And if you look at the – and we often encourage countries to look at the fine print of agreements that they’ve signed or that have been put in front of them to recognize the extent to which it’s not just a debt trap, but actual formulations in which access to parts of their country will be closed to them and open to Chinese. I am a firsthand witness to this in my last assignment in Pakistan. And then so just airing that, making it clear to everyone what the problem is and then developing strategies, and in some cases using our regulations and laws to make sure that we’re working against that.

And a very important part of the – the Chinese economic coercion I’ve mentioned briefly is finding alternatives so that – because often when you go to a country, a leader of a country that’s trying to develop their economy, they’ll say I understand the problem; I don’t have an alternative. What can you do? So we are honing our DFC, the Development Finance Corporation, and we’re talking to other partners who have similar organizations on how we can collaborate on this regard.

I don’t believe that there was a discussion today – I know there wasn’t – of the specific sanction you touched on in Xinjiang. But the G7 is a process; it’s not just a meeting. And it continues all year round. It depends really on the presidency to a certain extent. The British have been an extremely active and forward-leaning president. We’ve had – and this is unprecedented in my experience. We’ve already had four standalone statements, including on Hong Kong in the case of China, but also Navalny, on Burma, and on Ethiopia. And you can expect continued statements like that over the course of the year. And we definitely – in terms of promoting democratic values, we – sanctions is a clear tool that we all, I think, value, and the EU is increasingly – [Senior State Department Official Two] —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICAL TWO: Yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Increasingly prepared to use that.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And Borrell noted that, the things they have developed, and you’re really seeing an evolution. I mean, I’ve been at this for a little over two years and we’ve seen the EU, first of all, gain an awareness – which means that member-states are gaining that as well as the institutions in Brussels – of the challenges, what exactly we’re talking about with China, whether it’s 5G or other behaviors, including human rights. And they’re developing a number of tools; the 5G toolkit, for example, was something that they developed for their member-states in how to deal with that challenge.

MODERATOR: Barbara.

QUESTION: Just a question about the Ukraine. You mentioned solidarity against external aggression and internal aggression. Did that get – did that move beyond statements of principle? Or will the Secretary be bringing something more specific to Ukraine on both those issues after talks here? So for example, you know the president in Ukraine in the last few weeks again raised the issue of NATO membership or a plan for NATO membership, in terms of what solidarity against external aggression actually means in practice, which is never quite completely spelled out. And then internal aggression, presumably in response to the moves with the energy board and so on, has – was there anything – was there a joint statement on that? Like was that – was there a joint response to that that the Secretary will be taking with him?

And then just a broad question. You’re talking – both mentioned a lot – like you stressed the likemindedness, you brought in these extra countries for this meeting. I mean, do you feel that there’s – this is a real evolution of the G7? Do you feel that it is entering a new phase, sort of obviously focused by the concern about what you call the international rules-based order, but it’s China really propelling —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I would say the mood in the meeting today was more of a restoration of the G7, that the commitment to multilateralism that is I think a core foreign policy element here for the Biden-Harris administration and certainly Secretary Blinken’s approach just was pronounced and great endorsement and encouragement by all the delegations of that reality.

So I think – and there have been times when the G7’s been extremely active. I don’t want to compare it to every single chapter, but this – under the British presidency, it’s clear that we’re going to have a lot of significant meetings over the course of the year. And we sure need them given the fact that multilateralism needs to be restored, but also we’re facing global challenges that can only be dealt with through multilateral methods on a global basis. And these are the countries that are the strongest and the richest democracies with shared values, so who else is better positioned to begin to play a leadership role on issues like health and climate, economic recovery, and the security challenges that, of course, we’ve already covered?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And that’s actually a great segue to the Ukraine question, because in Ukraine and with Ukraine, the G7 plus the EU – which, of course, has been here with us today in the shape of the high rep – played a role in terms of engaging together on the ground with the Ukrainian Government, sharing the sort of agenda for things particularly on the internal challenges that we talked about. And they regularly meet to review with the government certain things.

So for instance, on this issue that we’ve raised, it was likeminded concern about what we see as really a step back in terms of corporate governance, something that they’ve worked very hard on over a period of time, with help from ourselves as well as the international financial institutions – the World Bank, IMF – and so we’ll be raising that collectively through our embassies that work so closely together in Kyiv, but obviously with the Secretary going tomorrow night and having meetings on Thursday, he’ll be raising that as well.

The security issues, while everybody is likeminded, observed the steps we’ve seen from Russia since most of us met, certainly the NATO members just a couple weeks ago – that’s not really this fora in terms of that. Obviously, the Secretary will talk in his meetings there the whole range of issues with President Zelenskyy.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Oh, sorry. None of the readouts with the Asian nations included conversations about Taiwan, which surprised me. Any conversations about getting Taiwan-specific assurances, anything you can say about that?

And then the – if I – on a totally different topic, the British papers, the days we were – before we were arriving were all buzzing about whether Secretary Raab was going to really push a trade deal again, whether that was going to be a big part of the one-on-one meetings. Anything you can tell us?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: They mentioned still wanting to look at a trade deal. Obviously, we now have – since some of the earlier meetings, we have a U.S. trade rep who the Secretary’s been in touch with. Broad agenda – the prime minister also mentioned some of these tariff issues where the Biden-Harris administration took steps to – on both sides with our European friends to suspend some of the tariffs that were in place to see if we can’t work those things out, say, with the Airbus – Boeing-Airbus tariffs. But we didn’t delve into specifics of trade at all. That wouldn’t be the – this wouldn’t be the place or the people to do that.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: On Taiwan, it did come up. I don’t have anything really specific to say about it except that, obviously, everyone is focused, looks at it, and we have our stated policies on Taiwan. That hasn’t changed. And one of the things that we’re going to see in the communique is strong support for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organizations like the WHO and WHA, where they really – it’s not just that Taiwan should have a right to be there, because you don’t have to be a state to be a participant in it, but that they have a lot to bring to the table, particularly on COVID. I mean, they have a lot of experience in this that can help all of us, and it just seems really self-defeating to exclude them. So that’s one of the themes you’ll see in the communique.

QUESTION: Did I miss – was there a session or is there a session tomorrow on technology, high technology? And if not, can you talk about the role that has played? I mean, particularly, when it comes to China, you have AI, super-computing, semiconductor manufacturing. I mean, anything you can just say to give us a flavor of how people are thinking or talking about that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: There was not a session on that today. Obviously, it’s woven through in sort of underlying themes on China, and also on economic development for all of us. Because again, there’s this reality that while we want to make sure China’s playing by the rules of the road, we also all want to benefit from Chinese economic activity, so long as they’re not stealing our IPR and that kind of thing or using that technology to invade into our societies like we’ve – see with Huawei, 5G.

There are – the reason I was looking at [Staff] is there are other formats of the G7 where we have these discussions. I’m not – I know this much about technology, so —

STAFF: Sure. I believe last week there was a meeting of G7 digital and technology ministers. We don’t have one in the United States that would participate at that level. We had a White House representative.

QUESTION: Okay.

STAFF: And – yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. That makes sense.

MODERATOR: A final question or two, maybe?

QUESTION: On Myanmar, the UK said it was going to urge those present to take stronger action against the military to increase humanitarian assistance, but obviously, sanctions have not had a great impact as far as stopping the military’s violent actions. Is there – was there discussion of taking a different approach outside of sanctions, whatever that might be, or – what was the discussion around moving forward considering that the violence continues?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. Well, there are a lot of ideas that are out there. I think a lot of the focus on the diplomatic process is looking toward ASEAN right now. You may have seen that they came out with an initiative. At some level anyway, the Burmese regime has responded to that. There was announced intent to appoint an envoy, an ASEAN envoy, so we would like to see that develop. We’ll discuss that further tonight when we’re with the ASEAN chair, Brunei.