South African Foreign Minister Responds to Washington: “We’ll Do Things Our Way”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was off to a tour of Africa last week with the proclaimed aim of countering Russian and Chinese influence on the continent. While in South Africa on Aug. 8, the Biden Administration’s chief diplomat lectured his hosts on the need to clearly break with Russia over the “invasion” of Ukraine and to beware of China’s “debt traps”, while calling on Africans to “defend the rules of the international system” — meaning the transatlantic world’s system of course.

But his counterpart, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, made clear she was not taking orders from anyone. At their joint press conference, with Blinken sitting next to her, she said bluntly: “one thing I definitely dislike is being told ‘either you choose this or else’…. I definitely will not be bullied in that way, nor would I expect any other African country worth its salt to agree to be [so] treated.”

In addition to South Africa’s refusal to join geopolitical blocs, Naledi Pandor touched on three key issues. On China and Africa, she stated: “Countries are free to establish relationships with different countries. African countries that wish to relate to China, let them do so, whatever the particular form of relationships would be. We can’t be made party to conflict between China and the United States of America… and I may say, it does cause instability for all of us, because it affects the global economic system.”

On Blinken’s push for “democracy,” one of the four priorities of Joe Biden’s “Sub-Saharan Strategy” together with “green energy”, Pandor recommended: “If your tactic is to approach African countries and say that, ‘listen, you must be democratic… and use our model, it works,’ I think it’s bound to lead to some failure.”

Pandor also spoke out against the “apartheid” in which Palestinians are forced to live, as an example of the double-standard often played by those who claim to defend the principles of the UN charter: “Just as much as the people of Ukraine deserve their territory and freedom, the people of Palestine deserve their territory and freedom. And we should be equally concerned at what is happening to the people of Palestine as we are with what is happening to the people of Ukraine.”

Speaking of double standards, the EU’s Foreign Policy chief Josep Borrell has no qualms about applying them. In an interview with El Pais (Aug. 11), today, he admitted that conditions in Gaza are scandalous, but called support for Kiev against Moscow a “moral imperative”. Asked about the difference, he explained: “We are often criticized for double standards. But international politics is to a large degree about applying double standards. We do not use the same criteria for all problems.”

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