In a symbolic display of that connection, the African Union headquarters where Tillerson and Faki met was built by China; there is a plaque inside the building that notes senior official Jia Qinglin attended the opening ceremony in 2012.
The two were questioned repeatedly by US and worldwide media about the January incident, in which Trump referred in a private meeting to "shithole countries" in Africa, triggering widespread outrage across the continent.
"We do firmly believe the answer is greater freedom for people, not less", said Tillerson.
Tillerson reiterated previous calls for African states to cut ties with North Korea. Details are still sketchy, but South Korea announced Tuesday that the North had stated there was "no reason" to hold on to its nuclear weapons "if military threats towards the North are cleared and the security of its regime is guaranteed".
It's a starkly different message from the one Trump delivered in a meeting with US lawmakers this year that soon became public, forcing humiliated USA ambassadors to apologize and Trump to send a letter to African leaders affirming his respect.
He is also billed to visit Nigeria.
"The objective of my trip to this continent is to listen", Tillerson said Thursday.
"Africans are mature enough to engage in partnerships of their own volition", he said. During the transition, mentions of the continent seemed largely in the context of cutting some signature US programs.
Tillerson will continue to advocate for good governance and transparency throughout his African trip, arguing that advances in those areas will help draw more private investment from the U.S.
Investments underscore just how much China is outpacing the U.S.in Africa. China also pumps billions into infrastructure projects around the continent, although these have attracted criticism for using Chinese labor and firms, and low-quality materials.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said there are "potentially positive symbols" coming from North Korea but that "we're a long ways from negotiations".
"Our message is for countries to consider what the terms of those agreements are and not forfeit any elements of sovereignty", he added.
Many African leaders have noted that these concerns rarely come up when dealing with China.
Tillerson, who this week becomes the most senior Trump administration official to set foot in Africa, did not directly respond to several specific questions about Trump's remark and whether Africa deserves an apology from the United States. Tillerson did announce Tuesday an additional $533 million in humanitarian assistance to help with starvation and conflict-related needs in Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria, but it was unclear exactly where the money would come from.
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