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The Chibok Girls; Interview With Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai. Aired 3-4p ET
Aired March 25, 2021 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In order to deal with these things, we are going to hold China accountable to follow the rules.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Super powers on a collision course? The man in the middle, China's ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, joins me for
an exclusive interview.
And the mass kidnapping that shook the world. "The Wall Street Journal"'s Joe Parkinson gives us a new in-depth look at the stunning survival and
rescue of Nigeria's Chibok girls.
PRITI KRISHTEL, CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INITIATIVE FOR MEDICINES, ACCESS & KNOWLEDGE: Where you live determines your ability to
get access to testing, to treatment, and now to vaccines.
AMANPOUR: How vaccine nationalism hurts the poor.
Health justice advocate Priti Krishtel tells Hari Sreenivasan that drug companies should give everyone a fair shot.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
President Joe Biden held his first formal press conference today. He addressed a whole host of urgent domestic issues, like COVID, voting
rights, and immigration, and, on the foreign policy front, perhaps no bigger challenge than China.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: China has an overall goal, and I don't criticize them for the goal. But they have an overall goal to become the leading country in the world,
the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world.
That's not going to happen on my watch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: But both Washington and Beijing appear to be growing angrier by the day, as evidenced by the heated verbal exchange that took place last
week in Alaska.
Chinese officials called U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's comments condescending, while the U.S. says China arrived intent on grandstanding
and expressed its concern about Beijing's treatment of Uyghurs, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Sitting squarely at the center of this complex relationship is China's ambassador in Washington, Cui Tiankai. And he is joining me now for an
exclusive interview from the embassy there.
Ambassador, welcome back to the program.
It couldn't be perhaps a more relevant time for you to be on the program. President Biden has just had his first press conference. He's addressed
relations with China.
So, I want to ask you. You heard what he said: Not on my watch, China's not going to become the next super power.
He's also maintained, and his administration, a certain hawkish public stance. He has not rolled back any of the quite stiff Trump era tariffs on
Chinese imports. How do you reckon with this administration? How different is it from the last one, do you think?
CUI TIANKAI, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, it's so nice to talk to you again, Christiane.
And let me try to make a few points clear. First, let's have a fair assessment of the meeting in Anchorage.
I think the meeting was a timely one, was helpful. It certainly helped both sides to have a better understanding of the other. So, I hope that this
will be the beginning of a long process of dialogue, communication, and hopefully coordination between the two sides.
Number two, as for China's development goal, we have our goal very clear. Our goal is to meet the growing aspiration of the Chinese people for a
better life. Our goal is not to compete with or replace any other country. This is never our national strategy. Hopefully, people could have a better
understanding of this.
And also, last but not least, we are certainly living in a very different world, in a fast-changing world. And there are different systems in the
world, different civilizations. And we believe what today's world wants and what tomorrow's world -- tomorrow's world would want is joint efforts by
all countries to build a community of nations for a shared future.
We don't think any attempt to divide the world into different camps or even build confrontational military blocs, we don't think that this kind of
approach is a solution. Actually, this is a problem itself, because such an attempt will not help us, first of all, to stop COVID-19. It will not help
us to confront climate change.
It will not help us to eliminate poverty. It will not help us to build a more open, inclusive, and sharing global economy. It certainly not will
help us to stop terrorism.
So, we believe our future lies in the joint efforts to build such a global community, not to divide the world into different camps.
AMANPOUR: Well, you have laid out your government's position pretty clearly. And we will go through them throughout this conversation.
But just like you have just said, nor is President Biden looking for confrontation. He said to the press conference that he had a very good two-
hour conversation with your President Xi Jinping, and he said this is what he told him. I'm going to play what President Biden said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I made it clear to him again, and I have told him in person on several occasions, that we're not looking for confrontation, although we
know there will be steep, steep competition; two, that we will have strong competition, but we will insist that China play by the international rules,
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that's a big issue, obviously, for the United States.
You saw it, obviously, because you were the recipients of it during the Trump administration, trade tariffs, as I said, on imports, and a huge
amount of argument from the West on intellectual property and the fact that they don't believe China plays by the rules.
Do you think, with this new administration, there is a way to get beyond those issues to have a competition, but a fair competition?
TIANKAI: Well, we have no problem with open and fair competition. Actually, we very much stand for that.
But the problem is, if you look at what happened in the last few years between China and the United States, maybe between the United States and
the rest of the world, how can we have fair competition when Chinese companies are discriminated against, when Chinese senior business CEOs are
detained without any reason, when there's such clear attempt to politicize everything, when such an attempt of nationalism and protectionism, against
So, in order to have open, fair competition, I think that these past mistakes will have to be corrected first. Otherwise, there's no basis for
us to engage in such competition.
And, you see, people talk about international rules. I think, in international affairs, in international relation, there are basic norms.
There are rules that every country should follow.
And what are these rules? You see, we have the United Nations charter. And the first -- the very first chapter of the U.N. charter sets forth a number
of fundamental principles for international relation. The first principle, the first principle set out in the U.N. charter is sovereign equality of
all its members.
Another principle is the obligation of all the U.N. members to refrain from threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political
independence of any state.
So, if people are interested in these rules, maybe they should start by reading the charter first. If people really want to show us the power of
example, I would suggest they could very well start with their own compliance with all these truly universally agreed principles.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador, Ambassador Tiankai, as you know, one of the huge issues that is on the U.S. plate right now is the issue of the Uyghurs.
And the U.S. State Department has called what China is doing to your Muslim minority a genocide. Also, Canada says that. Also, the Netherlands say
that. Obviously, China has denied that.
But a new report from Amnesty International estimates that China's policies have split up thousands of families, for instance.
And I'm sure you know that CNN has traveled to the heavily surveilled region of Xinjiang. And parents have given CNN permission, particularly to
correspondent David Culver and his team, to try to find the children who have been separated from them.
And they found two families.
I'd like you to just stand by while we play a couple of minutes of the report on one story of one of these families.
DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While on the ground in Xinjiang, there was a second set of children we wanted to track down. Their
parents are in Italy.
ABIKIM MAMTININ, FATHER OF CHILDREN TRAPPED IN XINJIANG (through translator): My children thought that we had abandoned them, that we don't
care about them.
CULVER: After having five children and getting pregnant with a sixth, they say authorities wanted to force the mother to have an abortion and throw
the father in jail.
MIHRIBAN KADER, MOTHER OF CHILDREN TRAPPED IN XINJIANG (through translator): The policies were too strict. It was impossible to take all
our children together with us. So, we left our homeland and our children, in desperation.
CULVER: The older children, now aged between 12 and 16, were left behind with their grandparents.
Mihriban and Abikim hoped the separation would be temporary, until they could secure more visas. But they went nearly four years unable to contact
their children. And they got word that family members were being rounded up and sent to camps.
Determined to reunite their family, their cousin in Canada, Arafat Abulmit, choreographed their escape attempt from a half-a-world away. In June 2020,
he managed to communicate to the kids.
Their parents had finally secured visa approvals from Italy for their children. In June 2020. Arafat managed to communicate to the kids.
ARAFAT ABULMIT, COUSIN OF UYGHUR CHILDREN: This is your only shot. If you just stay, your life is going to be staying there, nothing we can do.
CULVER: On their own, they traveled more than 3,000 miles, farther than going from L.A. to New York, recovering hidden passports, eventually flying
(on camera): When the children arrived here in Shanghai, they were excited and happy. They never thought they would make it this far.
(voice-over): But their repeated attempts to obtain their visas failed. Arafat also says multiple hotels turned their kids away because they are
Uyghur. They finally found a place willing to take them in.
All the while, they dropped geolocation pins for Arafat to know that they were OK. The last pin dropped on June 24, a few blocks from the hotel.
(on camera): Do you know who these children are? Have you seen them before?
(voice-over): Arafat in Canada watched, then silence, minutes to hours, to days, to weeks.
ABULMIT: And then I told my aunt they might have been detained. Mihriban in Italy, they start crying. Like, they cannot believe it.
CULVER: After several phone calls, he learned that police had tracked them down, China's giant surveillance network zeroing in the four children.
Arafat later found out they'd been sent back to Xinjiang and thrown into an orphanage.
In Rome, the parents heard the devastating news of their children's detention. As they begged for help outside Italy's Ministry of Foreign
Affairs Office, the Italian government refused to comment to CNN on what happened.
China has also not responded to requests for comment on the two families' cases.
AMANPOUR: So, Ambassador, it turned out later that the children were interrogated in this orphanage for hours about a conversation that they had
had with our reporter.
What is your reaction? And I guess, why not let these children go? Why detain children in an orphanage? What can be the political reason for
stopping them leaving the country and sending them back to Xinjiang from Shanghai?
TIANKAI: Frankly, there has been so much fabrication so far. So, I cannot just trust the story.
AMANPOUR: But you know that that's not fabricated, Ambassador, right?
TIANKAI: It's very unfortunate.
AMANPOUR: You know that that's not fabricated?
TIANKAI: It's very unfortunate. I think it's very unfortunate.
And it's immoral to take advantage of any particular family's situation and manipulate. This is not true journalism. It's very unfortunate for CNN.
Ambassador, I understand that you have a strong reaction to that, but this was not manipulated. This was parents, desperate, can't find their
children, want to try to be reunited with their children, and a reporter did his journalistic duty. It's called investigative reporting.
And my guess -- my question to you still is, why wouldn't those children be allowed to leave?
And I guess -- I mean, look, you know that there's been all sorts of studies and reports done on what's happening to the Uyghurs. The latest
comprehensive state policy says, the government has mandated home stays, mass internment, mass birth prevention policy, forcible transfer of Uyghur
children to state-run facilities, as we just saw, eradication of Uyghur identity, community and domestic life, selective targeting of intellectuals
and community leaders.
And, Ambassador, we're not the only ones who are doing this reporting.
So, what I don't understand is, when you talk about international rules, genocide and the violation of people's human rights based on ethnicity and
identity and religion is against international rules.
Why would a country as developed as China do that kind of thing? Why?
TIANKAI: China is not doing these things. Let me make it very clear. China is not doing these things.
And it's very unfortunate. Some people, including some journalists, they start with very strong bias and prejudice. That's their problem. That's how
they come to very different conclusions about particular situations, very much against real facts, what is really happening on the ground.
I have been to Xinjiang more than once in recent years. And what I saw is a very different story, a very different picture from the reporting.
Let me tell you the basic facts about Xinjiang.
Until very recently, the big threat to Xinjiang, to people of all ethnic groups was terrorist attacks, thousands of them, hurting and killing
thousands of innocent people, people from all ethnic groups. And it was a very serious threat.
There was strong demand by the local people that the government had to do something to stop it. So, this has been our priority, to stop the spread of
terrorist attacks. Some of them are connected with international groups like ISIS. It was a very serious threat to the lives and well-being of the
And, secondly, there was mounting terrorist, extremist and violent ideology among the local population. And that was also very dangerous. But what we
did was not to start a war there. We did not use missiles or drones.
We set up efforts for education and training, help people to learn more about the law, to acquire good skills to improve their lives, find good
jobs. And all this has made a huge difference. There's been no single terrorist attack in the last few years.
And in terms of the population, the population -- the Uyghur population has more than doubled in the last four decades. So, how can people talk about
You see, now people have -- but we do have--
We do have a situation--
AMANPOUR: Yes, just wanted to ask you.
AMANPOUR: It would be cleared up quite quickly. And you know that there are satellite images. And you know that reporters are talking to people and
that the women have told us about forced sterilization, rapes in the camps, forced labor, which already companies abroad are reacting against.
You have already got companies who will boycott Chinese goods from that region. So, why not let international officials in? Why not let
international journalists in to just see what's going on?
TIANKAI: In the last few years, there have been more than 1,000 people, diplomats, journalists from over 100 countries. Many of them are Muslim
countries. All these people have visited Xinjiang. What they saw, what they have seen are real facts.
And, also, you are talking about media coverage, satellite pictures. I remember all these things happened over the years. For instance, in maybe
more than a dozen years ago in Iraq, a few years ago in Syria, in Libya -- I still remember you were reporting the Iraqi war some years ago.
So, can people come out and repeat these same stories to the world? No, because these -- many of the stories were just based on falsehood, were
AMANPOUR: Ambassador, I'm glad I got to ask you some questions about this. I'm glad you got to see the report. And I'm glad I got to lay out the
I realize it's not going to be resolved on this program. But it would be great to have more access, and then we could see for ourselves, and we
would be able to tell a much, much fuller story than the one that is already being told with a lot of reporting, so we kind of know what's going
So, I want to ask you this. Given the pressure on China from the United States and other important countries because of what's happening with the
Uyghurs, given the rising calls, let's say, to boycott the next Beijing Olympics, as I say, boycotting and -- some of the products that you -- some
of the raw materials from Xinjiang, where do you see the areas of being able to work with the West, for instance, on climate?
Because we haven't even mentioned Taiwan and the -- some of the threats that are coming out of Beijing on that, and most certainly Hong Kong, which
we see the democratic promises made by China and the U.K. to Hong Kong are now being gutted.
So, where do you see actual cooperation, given the visions and the views and the systems are so utterly different and opposed?
TIANKAI: Well, we are always open for international cooperation. We are always committed to multilateral cooperation.
But, frankly, any such cooperation will have to be based on equality and mutual benefit and mutual respect. Otherwise, how can people cooperate with
each other, if they don't treat each other as equals?
And this is not our problem. This is the problem for the Western countries. They still have to learn how to treat other countries, other races, other
civilizations as equals. That's their problem, not our problem.
And, indeed, climate change is a global challenge. We are certainly ready to take part in international cooperation on climate change. But, honestly,
political climate also has an impact on the efforts to deal with the natural climate.
When there's insufficient mutual confidence, mutual trust, mutual respect, how can we work together to confront such a global change? I don't think
it's quite possible.
And even for climate change itself, how will the U.S. and the Western countries face the historical responsibility ever since industrialization?
How will they shoulder their responsibility to help the developing countries to deal with this challenge? They still have to take action. They
still have to prove they are seriously committed, they are earnest about their international obligation.
They still have to prove their sincerities.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you a question?
Because you have mentioned the idea of, I think, prejudice and bias. We know that there's an amount of prejudice and racism in China against
African workers who come. And you have also seen, sitting in the United States right now, a rise in prejudice, racist attacks, hate attacks,
shootings against Asian Americans in the United States.
AMANPOUR: Can you comment on what you're seeing and what you think about what's going on in that regard right now, where you are, Ambassador?
TIANKAI: We're certainly against such a rise in crime, hate crime, what people call.
And we take a very firm and strong position against such crimes. We are very concerned, we are very shocked by the hate crimes against Asians, for
instance, in the United States.
We just hope the U.S. government will do everything possible to protect these Asian people. Many of them are American citizens. They should enjoy
the same rights as other American citizens.
Hopefully, there will be serious efforts to confront such discrimination.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador Cui Tiankai, thank you very much for joining us. I appreciate it.
Now, China and the United States, of course, compete for influence all over the world, especially in Africa.
My next guest is "The Wall Street Journal"'s Africa bureau chief, who has covered Nigeria for more than a decade, a country whose economic potential
is hampered not just by corruption, by the rise and spread of terrorist groups like Boko Haram.
Hundreds of students have been kidnapped over the years, even after the stunning 2014 disappearance of nearly 300 Chibok schoolgirls. You will
remember everyone from first lady Michelle Obama to Malala Yousafzai got involved in the hashtag campaign to -- quote -- "bring back our girls,"
which is now also the title of a new book by correspondent Joe Parkinson, a definitive account of what exactly transpired.
And he is joining me now from his headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Joe Parkinson, welcome to the program.
Let me ask you, because the book is so intensely focused, of course, on the girls. Obviously, you have Boko Haram and the politics around it. But it's
really a diary of the girls and how they survived under those incredible circumstances.
Tell me a little bit about how you chose, how you identified the main protagonists of your book and what you learned from them.
Let's just take Naomi first.
JOE PARKINSON, AUTHOR, "BRING BACK OUR GIRLS": Sure.
Well, we spoke to some 20 of the young women who won their freedom after three years in captivity. And all of them that we spoke to had harrowing
and heartrending stories of what life was like in captivity, stories of courage and stories of loss.
But Naomi's personal testimony stood out, because she was described by her classmates as a leader. She was an unlikely leader, in that she struggled
throughout school with health problems. She had been kept out of school for years. And so she was older than some of her friends.
But she had a particular set of skills and characteristics that enabled her to be a kind of rock inside captivity and a rebel. And she actually began
to rebel against Boko Haram from the early hours of her captivity.
She refused to hand over her cell phone when they asked the girls for their personal effects. She refused to hand over her school uniform and kept it
on her for three years. She was one of the girls who began to keep a secret diary with her friends in captivity. When Boko Haram asked the young women
to copy down scripture and the tenets of their ideology, Naomi began to write down a diary, recording what happened to them in captivity.
She began to songs from home, record Bible verses. And this document, she kept wrapped around her leg for three years. And although other girls had
diaries in captivity, Naomi was the only one who managed to bring hers into freedom.
And, really, her kind of -- her role in this story is summed up by the different nicknames she was given. Her friends, they called her maman mu,
which is Hausa for "Our Mother." And really, she was a kind of mother to them in captivity.
But Boko Haram had a very different nickname for her. They called her the chief infidel.
AMANPOUR: Yes. It's a fascinating story, and to see, because, of course, the whole world viewed them as victims. And, of course, they were,
kidnapped, held hostage against their will.
But the strength of these girls, and, as you say, the solidarity that they built together in captivity is really what stands out in your book.
There's a great story about her, Naomi, and the secret bread line she sort of instituted. Tell me about that. And then what did it mean for the
emotional and physical survival of these girls and how they managed to resist their captors?
PARKINSON: Well, you hit on something crucial there, because I think a lot of the coverage of this story really portrayed the girls uniformly as
And they were victims, of course, of Boko Haram, and they were victims of a very, very appalling few years in the Sambisa forest. But what we started
to learn as we began speaking to them and kind of reconstructing their story is how much agency they actually had and how important them taking
their life and some of their decisions into their own hands was to shape their experience in captivity.
Naomi was at one point part of a group of girls who had been separated because they were earmarked to be released.
And these girls were given extra rations. Boko Haram wanted the world to think that they had been well-treated. And so they were essentially being
given more food, so they looked more healthy when they were released. They discovered that another group of girls were in a very different situation.
They were, in fact, being starved. The commander that was holding them wanted them to marry fighters and was trying to break their will. Now, when
Naomi and her friends discovered this, they took the extraordinary risk of funneling their surplus food through the forest to the area where their
friends were, crawling through the long grass when the guards were at prayer or in the evening times, when there was less scrutiny, to take them
food and to fortify their sisters.
When they actually reached their friends, because they didn't want to shout out because they were worried that the guards would be alerted, they
mimicked the sound of a bird in the Sambisa forest. This is one of the ways that they would communicate to each other without alerting the guards.
They mimicked the sound of a bird. And their friend came to see them. And they began to pass the food. And as you suggest in the question, this
wasn't just about fortifying their physical state, making them stronger. This was about emotionally connecting and making sure that they knew they
were in this together.
And that was another huge motif of these stories, is sisterhood and friendship, and the way that they coped together.
AMANPOUR: It is really a remarkable story.
I just want to pull out a little bit and ask you about the -- you know, the campaign to free them.
You remember the hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls. As I said, so many prominent people were involved. I remember being on an interview program. The British
prime minister, David Cameron, was there. And the two of us held out one of these signs.
But in the end, what good did it really do? Let me just read from your book. You said, more might've been able to escape as thousands of Boko
Haram victims have had social media not elevated them in an invaluable bartering ship, guarded so closely for such a long time. Do you think
basically that hashtag campaign kind of prolonged their captivity?
PARKINSON: It's a real paradox because without the hashtag campaign, nobody would've been looking for them at all perhaps. I mean, it was two
weeks if you recall from the kidnapping until the Nigerian activists who were bravely on the streets and trying to rally around this hashtag managed
to kind of get the attention of the world's media and then a world celebrity before it became a huge story. And really, if the hashtag hadn't
have happened then maybe the Chibok girls would've become part of this kind of statistic of kidnapped children in Northern Nigeria at that time.
And yet, there are aspects of the hashtag that a lot of Nigerian critics subsequently said have been troubling. The hashtag converted Boko Haram,
really, from a very marginal sort of rag tag militia into this sort of pantheon of global terrorist armies, it's no accident that sort of just the
two months after the Chibok kidnapping, they managed to get a lot more funding, a lot more fighters and did the association deal with the Islamic
State that was then in control of Raqqa and Mosul.
And so, you know, there's this paradox about whether the hashtag also, because it made the Chibok girls so valuable to Boko Haram, made it more
difficult for them to escape when the military actually started advancing.
And thousands of people, mainly women and children, because they were more costly for the insurgency to keep began to escape. So, it's unclear really
whether it extended their captivity because we also know that without the hashtag there wouldn't have been all of these seven militaries and U.S.
drones and all of these different people coming into look for them.
AMANPOUR: But that's -- and that's the other thing, Joe, isn't it? I mean, the fact that there were, as you mentioned, all these western and other
intelligence agencies and drones and working with the Nigerians. And yet, if I'm not mistaken, they didn't release or find a single girl.
In your book you write. satellites had spun in space scanning the forest of a region whose population had barely begun to use the internet. The air
power and personnel of seven foreign militaries had converged around Chibok buying information and filling the skies with the menacing hum of drones.
Yet, none of them had rescued a single girl.
So, why was that massive, you know, tech intensive global effort a failure?
PARKINSON: Well, that's one of the fascinating things that drew us to this story in the first instance. I think all of us remember the kind of
crescendo on Twitter that went right up to the White House and the Obama administration sent U.S. drones and a U.S. rescue effort to free the girls.
That was the first hashtag-inspired foreign military intervention. And as I said, it wasn't just the Americans, but it was the militaries of seven
And the reality was, you know, most people moved on from the story at that point. The drones were unsuccessful. Boko Haram was successful in splitting
up the girls into different cells. And it actually -- instead of this sort of billion-dollar tech intensive effort, public effort riding to the
rescue, is it was a secret effort run by a small team of Nigerians working in the shadows with a very little-known department of the Swiss government
that were actually ultimately responsible for the deal that freed the girls.
And you have this kind of tortoise and the hare dynamic. All of the technology, all of the sort of omniscient drone capability that we think
can see absolutely everything failed. And it was a small group of people building relationships, risking their lives to go into Boko Haram
One of them was arrested and disappeared into a Nigerian prison for a year. It was that team that never saw the lime light and in fact, tried to do
everything in secret as far away from Twitter as possible that were responsible for creating the deal that got the girls out -- got some of the
AMANPOUR: It's an amazing story, it really is, how that sort of quiet effort, you know, actually worked. But let's get back to the girls because
112 of them, I think, have still not been released from the original girls who were kidnapped.
PARKINSON: That's right.
AMANPOUR: And there have been subsequent kidnappings of both boys and girls. And Boko Haram still exists and may have even expanded its
tentacles. What is the status of the, you know, kidnapping, bartering, you know, sort of operation and Boko Haram status? Is it still a marginalized
group or has it had a resurgence?
PARKINSON: Well, I think we never imagine when we began researching this book, you know, four or five years ago that at the time of publication the
mass kidnapping of schoolchildren in Northern Nigeria would begin be a huge story. But unfortunately, it is. In the last four months, more than 800
children have been taken from schools across Northern Nigeria. The most recent kidnapping was two weeks ago in Kaduna State, 39 children from a
college, and they're still in a forest.
Now, what's happening now is slightly different because it's in the northwest of the country versus the northeast where Boko Haram operate. And
the groups that are doing the kidnapping now seem to be more motivated by money than ideology, which Boko Haram was motivated by. But the real fear
in Nigeria at the moment is that these two phenomena for a long time had been separate, Jihadism in the northeast, criminality in the northwest are
starting to fuse.
And we know that Boko Haram, which is resurgent, it's split but it's certainly not gone to way and this international effort has not succeeded
in defeating Boko Haram. We know that Boko Haram have sent emissaries to the northwest to the criminal groups that are now kidnapping children en
masse. So, the big concern is that this -- you can get this arc of instability across Africa's most populous country in the north and in an
area of increasing strategic importance for not just for the region but for the west and the world.
AMANPOUR: Right. It's a really fascinating read, gripping as it's certainly been described, and the humanity of the girls that you brought to
bear is really interesting, really, really interesting.
Joe Parkinson, thank you so much.
Now, some experts say that most of Africa and parts of South America and Asia won't even have any widespread inoculations against COVID until 2023.
While vaccines are readily available in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel, much of the world is still waiting. Health inequality
was badly exposed during this pandemic.
But Priti Krishtel says it does not have to be this way. She is co-founder and executive director of nonprofit Initiative for Medicines Access and
Knowledge. And she talks to our Hari Sreenivasan about the need to rethink how patterns are regulated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christian, thanks. Priti Krishtel, thanks for joining us.
Your organization, the Initiative for Medicines Access and Knowledge, you work on access to medicines all over the world. And I want to ask about the
U.S. first just for a minute. And that is. that right now, we have been thinking about this in a framing and a narrative that there is not yet
enough supply to go around for all of the Americans. That is part of what is leading to this. Is there anything that the global pharmaceutical
company or countries could've done to prevent us from being in this spot that we are today?
PRITI KRISHTEL, CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INITIATIVE FOR MEDICINES ACCESS AND KNOWLEDGE: So, when we think about access to medicines, I think
what we've learned since the beginning of the pandemic is that we really live in a hierarchy of health. Where you live determines your ability to
get access to testing, to treatment, and now to vaccines.
And so. we have seen time and time again in pandemics of the past that this same situation arises where we don't have enough supply and where the
pharmaceutical industry here in the U.S. and in other high-income countries says that we don't have enough supplies, and it's not possible to make
treatments or vaccines cheaper and expand the global supply. And experience tell us that that's just not true.
SREENIVASAN: But are there things we could have done to expand global supply in the first place?
KRISHTEL: Absolutely. I think we've been asking access to medicines movement over the last 20 years for a diversified global supply chain. That
means making investments in other regions of the world, in other countries to ensure that manufacturers everywhere have the ability to respond in the
case of pandemics emerging like this one.
There's also a need for a coordinated global response in terms of intellectual property or patents. We're a year into the pandemic and we're
still debating about whether to share the secret sauce in the vaccine with other country manufacturers. And it's just not a conversation we should be
having. We should have a system that responds swiftly by compelling manufacturers to share the recipe, to share their intellectual property and
their knowhow so as many manufacturers as possible can be deployed to scale up the vaccine so that as many people as possible can get it.
I want to get to patent and intellectual property in just a moment. I also want to ask, look, the U.S. taxpayers shelled out somewhere north of $10
billion to different companies to try to get this vaccine up and running. And I just want to ask whether did we get a good deal? Did we bargain well?
KRISHTEL: It's a great question. You know, when you look at a company like Moderna, many of us have taken the Moderna vaccine already in America
today. The U.S. government subsidized by taxpayers has invested $2.5 billion in the Moderna vaccine. Now, did we get a good deal? I'm not so
sure, because in order to stay safe, we need to make sure that globally people are getting vaccinated with the emergence of new variants. Just
because we get the vaccine doesn't mean that we're safe.
So, the U.S. government should be using everything in its power to make sure that Moderna is sharing its secret recipe with manufacturers all over
the world, and it's just not doing that. And as American, I am very concerned about that. I want to know that my government is doing everything
that it possibly can to scale up global vaccination to keep me and my family safe.
SREENIVASAN: Now, the CEO of Moderna has said in the past, I'm going to try to commercialize some of this, not just for this particular vaccine but
how we've done this, is a relatively interesting novel approach. And we want to make money off of this. What's wrong with that?
KRISHTEL: Our taxpayer dollars, Hari, almost entirely subsidized the development of this Moderna vaccine. And so, in this particular case, the
CEO of Moderna has already made personally over $3 billion. The company is poised. I heard one Wall Street analyst say recently that they are poised
to make $100 billion in the coming years. And yet, we're in the worst global pandemic that we've seen in a century. So, there is a deep inequity
in this system of global vaccine scaleup.
The CEO of Moderna should actually be compelled to share that secret recipe. And he has been very honest. He has said, with taxpayer dollars we
developed this platform. And this platform now, I'm not just using it to develop the COVID vaccine, that's already done now, I'm going to use this
platform for 15 different applications. And I'm going to make a whole lot of money over the next decade. And that's where when the market doesn't
incentivize a company like Moderna to do the right thing, it's really up to government to step in and claim ownership in a product like this.
SREENIVASAN: Right now, according to the "New York Times" Vaccine Tracker, we have administered in the United States somewhere around 128, 130 million
doses. Now, that is by far the largest number of doses of any country. But we're only at about 14, 15 percent of the whole population that's fully
vaccinated. Even partially vaccinated that's about 35 percent.
The Biden administration, the president himself has said, I want to take care of Americans first, then I'm happy to donate extra vaccine that I
have. And in fact, we've donated some of our excess off the shelf vaccine to Canada and Mexico. So, I'm wondering, what else should the president be
KRISHTEL: It is a tremendous accomplishment that we are on track to get so many Americans vaccinated this year, and that definitely should be
applauded. But what the president is saying here, President Trump said the same thing, that we need to vaccinate Americans first before vaccinating
people elsewhere, and that is a false choice.
That is a false frame. Those are essentially industry talking points. There is no reason that we could not purchase existing vaccine supply to treat
and vaccinate all Americans, while at the same time sharing that recipe, sharing our intellectual property and knowhow and making sure already that
developing country manufacturers were poised for scale and able to vaccinate people worldwide.
It is a false choice to say that we need to vaccinate Americans first. Americans are going to get the vaccine. We have bought up the existing
supply to be able to do that.
SREENIVASAN: The administration also says that, look, we're going to approve -- I think Congress already approved 2 billion, we're going to
approve another 4 billion to try -- through GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines. And, you know, what more can America do? Why should we be doing
KRISHTEL: I think the primary reason we should do it is because we are not going to be safe until everyone is safe. So, that is the number one reason
to be thinking about whether people in lower and middle-income countries are vaccinated. It's also the morally right thing to do. And it's also
what's needed to get the global economy back on track. But at the heart of it in order to ensure the safety of Americans, we do need to make sure that
everyone everywhere is vaccinated.
Now, the United States has taken some good steps in the last few months. We have rejoined international agreements and relationships such as with the
World Health Organization. And like you just mentioned, with COVAX. But all of that is insufficient, because at the heart of this story, about global
equitable access is intellectual property and you can't dance around that.
We saw that with HIV. We saw that with hepatitis. And we are seeing it again now. And we know what is needed. We have to figure out how to share
our intellectual property and our knowhow so that we can get global scaleup.
SREENIVASAN: Look, the intellectual property argument essentially always comes down to hitting kind of the scientists and the -- you know, versus
the patentholders, versus the kind of businesses. What is the way through this? You know, what happened during HIV? What happened with hepatitis?
What have you already kind of learned from watching, advocating in this space for so long?
KRISHTEL: So, in the mid-'90s when we saw the development of HIV drugs, it took a very long time. It took almost a decade for those treatments to
reach people across the African continent, Latin America, and across Asia. And during that time, millions of people died.
And so, what we have to remember about that experience or the experience of hepatitis B with the vaccine is that manufacturers in high-income countries
are always going to say that they cannot produce more cheaply, that they can't partner with more companies, that they can't share their IP. The
market doesn't incentivize them to do anything else.
But what we have seen time and time again is that when we give the opportunity to manufacturers in other countries to produce those products,
prices come down, manufacturing capacity increases rapidly, and millions of lives are saved.
SREENIVASAN: This is contrary to kind of the market philosophy that so much of the western world subscribes to. I mean, they're going to say,
listen, when you tell me that I have to give away the secret sauce, whether it's by government edict or in any other way, if I'm the CEO of Moderna and
President Biden calls me up and says, you got to give this up, you got to let a company in China and a company in India and a company somewhere in
Nigeria start to manufacture this, he's going to say, but, look, I spent all this effort and I took all the risk. Shouldn't I get the reward? Isn't
that what sort of the market structure is there for?
KRISHTEL: You know, I think this is a smokescreen, Hari. In the case of, for example, again, the Moderna vaccine, this is a vaccine that we as the
taxpayers paid for. So, first and foremost, we should be able to have a say in what happens with that intellectual property, that knowhow, the vaccine
But I think as a larger matter, we have lost our way when it comes to the intellectual property system or the system for patents. There is supposed
to be a social contract. Patents provide an incentive for invention, for scientific progress, for innovation.
And in return, we get access to those products. And whether you're talking about the health care worker in Malawi right now who can't get access to
the COVID vaccine or you're talking about somebody in the Mississippi Delta who can't afford their insulin, intellectual property lies at the heart of
these issues. It is a system that has gotten out of balance in the favor of private rights, and we need to start putting people back into that system.
We can't stay whetted to the idea of innovation. Innovation exists to serve people. Innovation exists in order to save lives. And if you forget that
that balance is supposed to exist, then I think that we've really lost our way.
SREENIVASAN: Some of the drug companies have said, you know what, we aren't going to try and sue a company that takes the sauce and starts to
make it on their own. Is that enough?
KRISHTEL: So, Moderna has said that, and they got a lot of positive PR for saying that they wouldn't enforce their patents during the course of the
pandemic. Again, I think it was a bit of a diversion tactic. While they may not be out there suing, for example, a manufacturer in Bangladesh who may
try to make the vaccine, the truth of the matter is other manufacturers cannot make this vaccine as quickly as possible to save lives unless
Moderna actively shares their knowhow, actively teaches other companies how to make this vaccine as quickly as possible.
That's why many advocates are calling on the Biden administration to join W.H.O.'s endeavors to actually create a place where people can share
intellectual property and knowhow.
SREENIVASAN: You know, we have been talking about access to medicines. And one of the recent op-eds that you wrote in the "New York Times" says that
essentially the way to racial equity and justice is through the U.S. patent office. Explain that connection.
KRISHTEL: Yes. There's probably three reasons, Hari, why we really need to start thinking about racial equity at the U.S. PTO. The Patent and
Trademark Office is an agency that I think most Americans don't even think about. But the truth is the U.S. PTO claims that it touches IP intensive
industries that make up 40 percent of our GDP.
So, when you talk about innovation being the heart of the American economy, you have to start thinking about the U.S. PTO. And so, the U.S. PTO
basically has two functions. It thinks that it has one, which is to grant patents, to drive innovation, to drive economic growth.
So, when you look at who actually gets a patent, research has shown that less than 1 percent of patentholders are black. The leading economists in
our country say that it's going to take 118 years to achieve gender parity in our patent system. So, these are equity issues that on day one need to
start being addressed by the new administration.
But then on the flip side of it, what happens to that innovation? Is it actually reaching people? And so, there's no better place to look -- to
think about that question than the high cost of prescription drugs. Over the last 40 years, patent rights have started to be granted at rates that
are unprecedented. So, our research has shown, for example, that on a given drug product, on the best-selling drugs in America, each drug is now
getting somewhere close to 100 patents per drug. And these companies are continuing to file hundreds of patents on these drug products.
So, what happens, then? The monopoly periods are getting longer and longer and prices are continuing to go up, and Americans are crying out for
relief. 13 percent of Americans are reporting that they lost a loved one in the last five years due to the high cost of drugs. And that number is twice
as high for people of color. So, when you talk about the president's executive order calling for racial equity to be embedded across all of its
operations, we need to start with the U.S. PTO.
SREENIVASAN: I should clarify, I mean, you also came up with an entire 10- point plan on what the Biden administration should do. Distill that a little bit for us. I mean, you're not in opposition to the idea of patents.
You just think they need reform.
KRISHTEL: Absolutely. I think patents -- you know, I grew up in a household, my father was a pharmaceutical scientist. He has many patents.
Those patents paid for my education. They gave me the opportunities that I have today. I think in America, patents represent opportunity. Patents
represent the ability for us to have the kind of progress that we want to see. But the system has gotten seriously out of balance. Skewed in favor of
private interests who are leveraging the system to advance their business aims, which is what the market incentivizes them to do.
What we are calling for is greater equity in that system, more public participation. The office right now essentially operates as a closed-door
entity available only to what it defines as its customer, which is people applying for patents, which is primarily corporations and universities.
What we are saying is that there needs to be representation from people living with diabetes, with groups advocating for greater HIV drug access,
that there would be other types of public representation available at the patent office where our voices are really heard to make sure that those
patents are actually serving the people that they are intended to be there for.
SREENIVASAN: Priti Krishtel of I-MAK or the Initiative for Medicines Access and Knowledge, thanks so much for your time.
KRISHTEL: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Important information there. And, finally, while the heat is rising against another Beijing Olympics, the flame has been lit in Japan.
The torch relay began in Fukushima 10 years after the deadly tsunami.
Athletes will carry the torch across Japan before reaching Tokyo for the opening ceremony on July 23rd. The games, of course, were delayed by a year
due to the pandemic and there won't be any international spectators at this summer's games because of ongoing concerns. But hope springs eternal, and
Japan's famous cherry blossoms have bloomed and they've done so early. So, there's always something to be joyful about.
That's it for our program. You can always catch us online, on our podcasts, and across social media. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.