PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, visiting the country with the world's highest rate of HIV infection, said Tuesday that American-sponsored efforts to stop the virus "have saved hundreds of thousands of lives" in South Africa.
In the capital of Pretoria, Clinton met with Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and other senior officials in the second cabinet-level strategic dialogue between the two nations. She also participated in a summit of leading U.S. business executives and their South African counterparts with the aim of boosting trade between the two countries.
In South Africa, 5.7 million people — 17.8 percent of the population — have tested positive for HIV. PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, has spent $3.2 billion on anti-retroviral drugs and HIV prevention programs in South Africa since 2004. The program was initiated by President George W. Bush and has been continued by President Barack Obama's administration.
"Together, I think it's fair to say we have saved hundreds of thousands of lives," Clinton said.
On Wednesday in Cape Town, she will preside at a ceremony at which the U.S. will begin shifting administrative control of the AIDS initiative and treatment implementation to the South Africans. The handover will take five years.
With Nkoana-Mashabane at the U.S.-South Africa business summit, Clinton hailed the growing trade ties between the two countries. She noted that two-way trade had shot up 21 percent to almost $22 billion from 2010 to 2011.
Nearly 98 percent of South Africa's exports to the U.S. enter the country duty-free under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which is set to expire in 2015. Nkoana-Mashabane urged the U.S. Congress to extend the act and Clinton said the administration would work with lawmakers on it.
Since she began her Africa trip in Senegal last week, Clinton has been stressing the responsible nature of U.S. investment, saying that it seeks to add value and not extract it. She has contrasted it with that other unnamed countries in veiled shots at China, which some critics say exploits Africa for its resources without regard for local populations.
"When our companies do invest we want to make sure that it is the people of South Africa that reap the benefits, that our companies are good stewards, that the economic opportunities we help to create generate broad-based prosperity," she said.
"We don't want to see the bulk of the benefits of our economic engagement to go to a small group of elites or to foreign companies," Clinton said. "We want it to empower people."
Asked about South Africa's increasing trade ties with China, Clinton said it would be irresponsible not to engage in global business. But she added it was important that the business be responsible.
"It would be political malpractice if the government did not seek out economic opportunities everywhere," she said. "The United States does the same; we trade all over the world, including China."
"What we ask for ... is let's be sure we have a level playing field, let's be sure we have rule of law, that contracts are respected, that intellectual property is protected, that we have the rules of the road, so to speak, up to international standards and norms."
Clinton played down U.S. concerns over South Africa's reluctance to support western-backed initiatives at the United Nations, where South Africa is wrapping up a two-year elected term on the Security Council.
South Africa abstained on the last Security Council resolution on Syria, which would have called for sanctions for non-compliance with Kofi Annan's peace plan. The resolution failed on a double veto by Russia and China.
"As crisis and opportunities arise there are tough issues that we have to tackle together," Clinton said. "We do not always see eye-to-eye on these issues. ... Sometimes we will disagree, as friends do."
Clinton and Nkoana-Mashabane pledged to intensify cooperation in dealing with crises in African hotspots, such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
"We believe as partners on the continent we can do more about stability and the way we are going to foster economic growth and security," Nkoana-Mashabane said.
Clinton is in South Africa at the midpoint of an 11-day tour that has already taken her to Senegal, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya and Malawi. After the stop in Cape Town, she will travel on to Nigeria, Ghana and Benin before moving on to Turkey, where she will have meetings to discuss Syria.