Skip Global Navigation to Main Content
Skip Breadcrumb Navigation
Africa Media Hub

Briefing on Assistant Secretary Carson’s Recent Travel to Asia

Ambassador Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs

November 22, 2011

On Tuesday, November 22nd, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson briefed journalists across the continent on his recent trip to Asia.  Assistant Secretary Carson traveled to China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea from November 8-15 to hold bilateral meetings with his counterparts and to co-chair the fifth round of the U.S.-China Sub-Dialogue on Africa in Beijing.  He provided a read-out of his trip and discussed areas of mutual interest and cooperation in Africa between the United States and Asia.

Download Podcast (MP3 22 MB)


OPERATOR:  Welcome and thank you for standing by.  Currently all participants are on listen-only for the presentation.  Today’s conference is being recorded, if anyone objects they may disconnect.  I would like to turn the conference over to Carrie Denver.  You may begin.

MODERATOR (MS. DENVER):  Good afternoon from the African Regional Media Hub with the United States Department of State.  I would like to warmly welcome our participants who are calling from nine countries across the continent.  We thank you for taking the time to join us.  Today we have Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, who will give us a read-out of his recent travel to Asia.

We will begin today’s call with remarks from Ambassador Carson and then open it up to your questions.  To ask a question, please press star one on your phone to enter into the questions queue, and you can do that at any time during the call.  Today’s call is on the record and will last approximately 25 minutes.  And now I will open it up to remarks from Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON:  Hi, good morning.  This is Johnnie Carson speaking from Washington, and I am pleased to have an opportunity to talk with all of the journalists who are online about my recent trip to Asia and to take your questions about other issues related to Africa.  Let me first say a few things about my recent trip.  I had an opportunity last week to go to three countries in Asia.  I visited Beijing, where I met with my Chinese counterpart.  I also visited Tokyo, where I met with my counterpart there and also to Korea where I met with the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Korean Foreign Ministry, as well as the Director for Africa in that country.

In China, I had an opportunity to exchange views with the Vice-Foreign Minister, Zhai Jun, about how China views the current situation on the continent, especially those areas of most concern, Somalia, Sudan and the Eastern Congo.  We also had an opportunity to discuss at length China’s continuing economic investments across the continent as well as how the U.S. and China might work together in promoting a number of trilateral development initiatives in a number of African countries.  We are eager to see if we can work with China to leverage our comparative advantages to help Africa overcome some of its economic challenges, particularly in the area of agriculture, health and clean water.  We in Washington do not see China as an adversary in Africa, but as a country trying to expand its trade and investment across the continent just as we and others are also doing.  We do however encourage China to act as a responsible global player as it undertakes its economic, and trade and investment activities on the continent.

In Japan and Tokyo we have very, very close relations with both of those governments.  We applauded the Japanese for their continued contributions to the UN Trust Fund on Somalia, their willingness to look at putting in additional resources into Sudan and to possibly put a Japanese engineering battalion into the UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur] peacekeeping force.

In Korea, Korea is increasingly interested in increasing its level of development assistance in Africa and in expanding its diplomatic presence on the continent.  We encourage both of those moves.  Let me go back and make one other comment about China.  We applauded China for its increased humanitarian support and financial assistance to Somalia, and we applauded both Japan and China for their cooperation in helping to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia in the Red Sea where we in the United States are also working to combat piracy.  Let me stop right there and take some questions.

MODERATOR:  Thank you Ambassador Carson.  Now we are ready to start our question and answer session.  If you would like to enter the question queue please press star one on the touchtone phone.  Our first question comes to us from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Please state your name and affiliation before you ask your question.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi, my name is Finnigan wa Simbeye, I write for Daily News in Tanzania.  Ambassador Carson, you have just said how China is expanding its influence in Africa and there have been concerns along these grounds that China is quickly advancing its interests, investments and trade on the African continent unethically, and there is a lot of concerns about human rights and all of that.  But listening to you, most of us were amazed to hear that the Europeans are also looking to China to be buried out of their economic problems.  What is happening really in the West?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON:  Again, that is a broad question that goes beyond the issue of China in Africa.  I think that we have seen over the last decade an increase in Chinese interests across Africa, largely seeking oil, gas and minerals to fuel their large economic growth.  China has been, and has had, one of the fastest growing economies in the world over the last decade, and they have looked to Africa to help provide the energy needs for their industry to continue to grow, but we in the United States, as well as in parts of Western Europe and in other parts of the world, are also looking to Africa for energy.  We in the United States import some 18 or 19 percent of all of our petroleum needs from the continent and we get as much oil from Africa as we do from Saudi Arabia.  Certainly Nigeria, a country of great importance to the United States, provides about eight percent of America’s petroleum needs and is our largest source of low sulfur crude.  What we do say when we look at China is to act as a responsible player as it goes about undertaking its economic activities on the continent.  We hope that as they invest, as we invest, and others invest in the continent that they will employ African labor.  That they will follow local labor standards.  That they will pay decent wages.  That they will train their personnel.  That they will impart technology and that the trade that they have will be beneficial as it should for both parties to the process.  But we have no objection to China as we have no objection to Germany, France or Japan engaging in trade and investment in Africa.  We ask that everybody live up to their responsibilities in doing so and do it in a manner which is beneficial to not only the country but the citizens of the country as well.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.  Please state your name and affiliation before asking your question.  Nairobi, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hello.  My name is Ally Jamah from a newspaper called The Standard in Nairobi.

AMBASSADOR CARSON:  I know The Standard.

QUESTION:  Yes.  I am just curious Mister Ambassador, did you have any discussions with the Asians, the Chinese and the Japanese, did you have any discussions about the ongoing conflict between Kenya and the al-Shabaab militants in Somalia in considering that China is also—[changes thought]—I understand China is a bit involved also in the conflict.  And could you also tell us a bit about the nature of the U.S. involvement maybe in supporting Kenya in any other way?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON:  Well let me just say that the issue of Somalia was a topic in all three countries.  We all are deeply concerned about the continuing instability inside of South-Central Somalia and not only how it impacts on Somalis, but also on neighbors like Kenya and the global community as well.  Somalia is a problem that has three dimensions, one local, one regional and one global.  And so it was a source of discussions in all three capitals.  As I pointed out, both the Chinese and the Japanese provide ships to the joint anti-piracy task force that operates out in the Red Sea along the coast of Somalia, as does the United States.  All three countries, including Korea, are major, major trading countries and so use the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, in order to move goods from Western Europe and the United States across to Asia through the most expeditious routes.  So we are all concerned about Somalia.

We are also concerned about the humanitarian situation in Somalia which has been made extraordinarily worse by al-Shabaab, one of the most notorious and mean rebel groups in Somalia and in Africa, extremist groups in Africa.  We have all contributed, certainly China, Japan, the United States and Korea have all contributed large amounts of money.  The United States being by far the largest contributor providing some nearly $600 million in support to the famine relief in the Horn of Africa including over $175 million this fiscal year for Somalia alone.  So, it was a source of a great deal of discussion.  With respect to Kenya, we appreciate the enormous burden that Kenya shoulders living next to Somalia, a country which has been at war with itself for nearly 22 years.  Kenya has shouldered the burden of taking on in excess of 600,000 refugees, mostly residing in Dadaab Refugee Camp.  This would be a burden for any country.  It is an enormous burden for the Kenyan Government and its people.  Although the UN High Commission for Refugees and other partners like the United States assists Kenya, we never are able to assist it fully so that Kenya has to bear some of this enormous burden, but, we have seen what Somalia has done.  It has spawned refugees.  It has spawned illegal arms trafficking.  It has spawned illegal commercial traffic across the border, and it has resulted in the kidnapping and deaths of tourists along the coast.  This has undermined Kenya’s very lucrative tourist trade.  So, we appreciate the enormous burden that Kenya bears as a result of living next door to the very difficult situation that Somalia is in.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  The next question comes from the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana.  Please state your name and affiliation before you ask your question.  Accra, your line is open.

QUESTION:  My name is Ekow Quandzie. I write for the  I just want to ask Johnnie. A research report by Transparency International that the 2011 Bribery Payers Index states that China is the most likely to engage in bribery when doing business abroad, especially in Africa.  Does he think that China’s huge presence in Africa is as a result of this?  And then two. Some say China is moving Africa with their investments in order to push the West away, and then after that they are going to use—[changes thought]—they will start (inaudible) Africa with their control on the continent.  Thank you very much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Let me say that bribery is a concern to all of us.  I said before that we hope that China’s engagement in Africa will be responsible, and that they will not engage in bribery in doing business.  We in the United State have a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which prohibits American companies operating overseas from engaging in bribery.  If companies, American companies, engage in illegal activities overseas they can be prosecuted in U.S. courts.  The European Union also has an anti-bribery statute as well, and it came after the one in the United States.  We hope that China will also move against any of its citizens, and any of its corporate entities that are engaged in criminal activities associated with trade and investments. But it is also very, very important that African countries hold China to the same high standards of operation that they hold American and European countries to.  It is important, and I will repeat it, it is important for African countries to hold China to the exact same standards that they hold American, and European, and Japanese companies to.  American companies invest extensively in and across Africa, but they don’t bring thousands and thousands of American workers to do unskilled labour jobs.  American companies train their workers, their local workers.  They hire locally.  They live up to local labour standards.  They follow the environmental practices that are out there, and they provide skills, and they provide technical training, and technical background and understanding so that individuals are better able to work and do their jobs.  These are the kinds of things that African governments must also hold China up to as they hold American, and British, and German and French companies up to as well.  So, it is up to the African governments to play their part, but we do have a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  There is a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act among Europeans, and so these things also have to be looked at.  Again, I think that we have no objection to countries going in and making investments, but governments have to make sure that what they are getting benefits all of the people of their country and there should be accountability and transparency in the way deals are done.  There must be a clear and manifest benefit to both people and governments in countries when these deals are done.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from the U.S. Embassy in Madagascar.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hello, my name is Manjakahery from Hebdo Madagascar.  My question is about the state of democracy in China.  Democracy and development in China. (Sentence indistinct). Do you believe again that there is a connection between development and democracy in all countries around the world?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON:  Let me just say that China does not have a democratic system like the one that we have in the United States, nor the one that we would characterize in Western Europe.  It is not a popular democracy.  There is not a free and open and regular selection of leaders, and there is not the protection of liberties and human rights as we would find in the United States and the West.  We continue to believe very firmly that people and countries can make the greatest progress and advancement under democratic systems where the freedom of choice and the ability to be creative and to think broadly and widely is best practiced under democracies.  I think that you see, and continue to see, the enormous creativity that emerges from the United States.  I think that enormous creativity, energy, drive and ability to renew itself and to move forward are all to be found in countries where there are open democratic systems.  Take a look at almost every major advance in science and technology, and you see that by in large it is coming out of countries that are free, open and democratic.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  The next question comes from our embassy in Addis Ababa.  Addis your line is open.

QUESTION:  (Omer Redi Ahmed, Inter Press Service) Thank you.  Ambassador, recently there have been a number of reports that Ethiopian troops have crossed into Somalia, and the Ethiopian Government has over the weekend actually said that it is discussing whether to send these troops to Somalia or not.  Have you been consulted on this? As a partner with the Ethiopian Government, have you been consulted on this and what is your actual information on the situation?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON:  We are watching the situation in Somalia quite closely.  Ethiopia, like Kenya, shares a long border with Somalia and has had to shoulder the burden of dealing with large numbers of refugees as well as the illegal movement of commerce and the illegal movement of arms across the border.  There is no doubt that al-Shabaab and its activities are a threat not only to Kenya, but also to Somalia.  But we firmly believe that the best way to deal with al-Shabaab and the way to restore stability is through working with AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] militarily using them as a vehicle to advance security and to open and secure the environment for the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] and to make substantial progress.  We think that continued support for the TFG under the Djibouti Process and under the good work that has been done over the summer in Kampala and Mogadishu to advance the transitional government to another level is a critical part of this effort.

I would remind the caller that Ethiopia went into Somalia some four-and-a-half years ago and stayed for approximately two-and-a-half to three years.  That effort was not universally successful and lead, in fact, to the rise of al-Shabaab after they pulled out.  I think that it is prudent to continue to use the AMISOM efforts in Mogadishu as the core element for fighting al-Shabaab and helping to return stability to the country.  It is better to work from Mogadishu and out of AMISOM, and it is important to support the current IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] efforts that are underway politically and on the security side.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We have time for one more question.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON:  I think we are going to have to stop because I need to go upstairs.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Thank you.  Thank you everyone.  This concludes today’s call.  On behalf of the African Regional Media Hub, I want to thank Assistant Secretary Carson for joining us and thank our callers.  If you have questions from today’s call you can send them to the hub email address at  We hope you will join us for future African Regional Media Hub events.  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Today’s call is concluded.  All participants may disconnect at this time.  Thank you for attending today’s call.


Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs:

Ambassador Johnnie Carson was sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, on May 7, 2009. Prior to this he was the National Intelligence Officer for Africa at the NIC, after serving as the Senior Vice President of the National Defense University in Washington D.C. (2003-2006).

Carson's 37-year Foreign Service career includes ambassadorships to Kenya (1999-2003), Zimbabwe (1995-1997), and Uganda (1991-1994); and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs (1997-1999). Earlier in his career he had assignments in Portugal (1982-1986), Botswana (1986-1990), Mozambique (1975-1978), and Nigeria (1969-1971). He has also served as desk officer in the Africa section at State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (1971-1974); Staff Officer for the Secretary of State (1978-1979), and Staff Director for the Africa Subcommittee of the US House of Representatives (1979-1982).

Before joining the Foreign Service, Ambassador Carson was a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania from 1965-1968. He has a Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science from Drake University and a Master of Arts in International Relations from the School of Oriental and Africa Studies at the University of London.

Ambassador Carson is the recipient of several Superior Honor Awards from the Department of State and a Meritorious Service Award from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The Centers for Disease Control presented Ambassador Carson its highest award, "Champion of Prevention Award," for his leadership in directing the U.S. Government's HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in Kenya.