China-South Africa ties at historic peak

By H.E.Ms Dolana Msimang Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/21 21:53:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Republic of South Africa and the People's Republic of China established diplomatic relations on January 1, 1998. In 2018 we'll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of ties. Over the past two decades, our bilateral relations have gone from strength-to-strength, quickly growing from a Partnership to a Strategic Partnership to what is now a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

When President Xi Jinping met President Jacob Zuma at the BRICS Xiamen Summit 2017, he has told that in recent years the development of the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and South Africa maintains a strong momentum and that bilateral relations are at their best in history. During this visit, South Africa and China signed 23 agreements valued at over R94 billion ($7.38 billion). The value of these agreements is historic as it is the highest value of deals ever recorded in South Africa's history during a state visit.

Our relations are at the level of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP), with bilateral ties among the most vibrant and significant for South Africa. The CSP, signed in 2010, prioritises enhancing frequent high level political exchanges and advancing trade and investment. To this end, bilateral mechanisms such as the Bi-National Commission, Joint Working Group, and Strategic Dialogue have been established to facilitate and enhance political interests and economic objectives.

It is worth noting that the most recent people-to-people exchanges between China and South Africa took place when China designated 2014 as the Year of South Africa in China. Similarly, South Africa designated 2015 as the Year of China in South Africa. In April 2017, South Africa successfully hosted the First South Africa-China High-Level People-to-People Exchange Mechanism (PPEM). This is the latest addition to our structured bilateral mechanisms and the first PPEM China has with an African country. The PPEM focuses on 10 areas of cooperation including culture, education, health, sports and tourism. We expect to make even greater progress through this mechanism in the area of people-to-people exchanges.

Our bilateral relations are central to realising our socio-economic development agenda through our foreign policy as we increase our efforts to implement the National Development Plan, cooperating in the areas of trade and investment, agriculture, environment and skills development.

During the past 20 years, South Africa and China also cooperated closely at international organizations and strongly supported each other in numerous global affairs. The friendship and mutual trust have been further deepened and strengthened.


Invited by China, South Africa joined BRICS in 2010 and since then South Africa has been working closely with China under the BRICS frame. We value our membership of BRICS since it enables us to promote economic development through enhanced trade and investment, expand sectors in which our country holds a comparative advantage and even provide overseas investment opportunities for South African enterprises. BRICS also provides us an opportunity to influence policymaking and alignment among developing countries to make the international economic system more inclusive while strengthening the global order and upholding the principle of multilateralism and the centrality of the United Nations.

One of the most important successes of the key achievements of BRICS that reflect the main benefits for South Africa include the first BRICS financial institutions that were created in 2014, namely: the New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement. These institutions are intended not only to complement the existing architecture, but also to additionally leverage the resources of the Global South to directly address the needs (and shortcomings in the existing architecture) of the Global South through mobilising its significant resource base (BRICS foreign reserves are estimated to be around $4 trillion).

BRICS has been the creation of a platform for dialogues among experts/academics, youth, business persons and others. We value BRICS not only as an economic platform but as the voice for the voiceless mass. The diversity in BRICS in terms of political systems, societies and cultures makes it well-suited to foster new ways of engaging in international affairs. On people-to-people exchanges among BRICS member states, South Africa took part in a number of events including the BRICS Games in Guangzhou; the BRICS Film Festival in Chengdu and the BRICS Culture Festival in Xiamen which further solidified the BRICS' partnership and fostered greater mutual understanding among people of BRICS member states.

South Africa, the youngest member of the BRICS cooperation mechanism, will soon assume the chairpersonship of the organisation from China and host the milestone 10th BRICS Summit and the various sectorial events and meetings in 2018. As the incoming chair, we will strive for a seamless transition between our successive chairpersonships, for all partners and to build on the work of China and indeed of all our BRICS partners before. We fully intend to continue amplifying the various productive initiatives that were undertaken this year.


The inception of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000 was a historical milestone of Sino-African relations. Launched in October 2000 in Beijing as a tri-annual collective dialogue platform for cooperation between China and Africa, FOCAC is based on the principles of South-South cooperation and mutual and equal benefit. Its primary aim is to contribute to the realisation of Africa's socio-economic development and integration through all aspects. It is aimed at strengthening the equal and harmonious partnership grounded in the pursuit of economic development and catalysing Africa's industrial revolution.

South Africa hosted the sixth Ministerial Conference of FOCAC Summit in Johannesburg in December 2015, under the theme "Africa-China Progressing Together: Win-Win Cooperation for Common Development." The summit further consolidated the partnership between Africa and China, through South-South cooperation, with a special focus on industrialization and the regional integration of economies in Africa. The summit outcomes agreed upon delivered commitments and pledges of financial support to the value of $60 billion, over 3 years, toward Africa's Agenda 2063 development programme. It was the first FOCAC summit on African soil and led to major breakthroughs as we accelerate our efforts to bring meaning to Africa-China solidarity, through concrete business and commercial ventures. 

The seventh Ministerial Conference of FOCAC will take place in Beijing in 2018. The opportunities for achieving tangible results within FOCAC are plenty, in particular as South Africa is positioned to improve its infrastructure, increase intra-trade and firmly become part of the emerging global drive toward sustainable development.

The FOCAC agenda speaks to a vision of a prosperous, united and peaceful Africa, as captured in the African Union's Agenda 2063. It is expected that the seventh Ministerial Conference of FOCAC will contribute to the realisation of the African Agenda by finding synergy between Agenda 2063's First 10-Year Implementation Plan and the objectives of FOCAC.

Belt and Road Initiative

South Africa signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with China during the state visit of President Xi Jinping to South Africa in December 2015. The MoU encourages Chinese and South African companies, through various business links, to explore cooperation in infrastructure projects such as roads, railways, ports, power generation, airports and human settlements.

The BRI dovetails with South Africa's Operation Phakisa, an initiative aimed at "unlocking the potential of South Africa's ocean economy" which was initiated in March 2014 as a government programme to fast-track initiatives within the oceans. South Africa's participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will strengthen its growing business relationships with the region and will also demonstrate solidarity with the region's development aspirations. This is in line with South Africa's own National Development Plan's vision of creating employment, growing the economy and promoting exports.

South Africa has a strong focus on regional integration and the development of regional value chains. We also have a very strong environment sector supported by very experienced consulting engineers. The BRI is, therefore, an opportunity for South African companies and their Chinese counterparts to forge partnerships on infrastructure projects related to the BRI, which will assist us to achieve our regional integration objectives. We are working closely with China on elaborating concrete plans to make our participation in the initiative meaningful. South Africa's participation in the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing on 14 to 15 May 2017 enabled us to gain deeper insights into how the initiative will unfold and thereby to prepare ourselves accordingly.


In September 2016, China successfully hosted the G20 Summit in Hangzhou. South Africa offered its full support for a successful outcome under the leadership of China. The African nation continued to play a critical role in the G20 as the only African member, and supported the interests of the African continent in respect of agenda setting and deliberations. South Africa seeks to use its participation in the G20 to promote and strengthen the interests of Africa and of the Global South. On the margins of the G20, a bilateral meeting between Presidents Jacob Zuma and Xi Jinping focused on progress made toward implementation of joint projects, exchanging information and ideas on developments in Africa as well as exploring mechanisms of reaching consensus on the most pressing international issues.

During the G20 2016 Summit, South Africa further welcomed the Chinese presidency's prioritisation of Africa by supporting industrialisation in Africa and low-income countries. As one of the co-chairs of the G20 Development Working Group, South Africa advanced issues that are key to fast-tracking the development of low-income countries, particularly those in Sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa also worked to include the industrialisation priorities of the African Union's Agenda 2063 into the G20 outcomes documents.

The G20 is the premier forum for coordination on international financial and economic matters. South Africa will continue to work closely with China in order to better achieve the common goals.

South Africa and China also have strong partnership within many other international organizations such as BASIC, the UN and WTO, all of which support growing trade and investment partnership, as well as act as platforms to highlight issues affecting developing countries.

Since establishing diplomatic ties, our economic relations have grown to a point where China is South Africa's No.1 trading partner, while South Africa is also China's largest trading partner in Africa. Trade relations between South Africa and China have remained buoyant despite the global economic slowdown. According to the South African Revenue Service, the volume of bilateral trade stood at R299 billion in 2016. South African exports to China totalled R100.1 billion whereas imports stood at R199 billion.

In 2013, our government introduced the National Development Plan, which aims to transform the economy by putting the country on a new growth trajectory. The transformed economy that our plan seeks to achieve is one that encompasses new knowledge, new industries and the development of knowledge workers. South Africa needs increased value-addition and diversification to achieve the new growth trajectory. This means that the productive sector of our economy, namely, manufacturing, has to move up the value chain. In effect, this means that we must industrialise and re-industrialise our country. To this end, we are strengthening and further boosting our cooperation with China in the areas of benefiting from natural resources; increasing local content across the manufacturing sector, from automotive, renewable energy, chemicals to the pharmaceutical sector; developing oceans economy from the marine services sector to the aqua-culture sector to exploit opportunities in both the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean; developing 10 special economic zones of which five are already functional all supported by favourable government policies.

We believe that China's move away from heavy reliance on manufacturing to technological innovation and consumption-based economy and its economic development strategy particularly her "Going Out" outward investment strategy offers a range of opportunities for South Africa.

With incomes rising in China and an estimated 260 million people set to move from the countryside into China's cities in the coming years, demand for all types of services will increase significantly. This trend provides many significant opportunities for South African and Chinese business to create lasting and highly valuable commercial partnerships.

China's demand for a variety of food products is increasing. Imports are taking a significant share of the Chinese market because of production constraints and concerns over the safety of indigenously-produced goods. South Africa hopes to take advantage of these developments. We plan to expedite negotiations on protocols for South African export of a variety of food products, such as pork, dairy products and pears to the Chinese market.

There are also a range of services that we could offer to Chinese companies as they venture out to the African continent, including legal and financial services as well as management expertise. Our knowledge of the African continent - especially the cultural aspects thereof - and expertise makes us valuable partners for Chinese entrepreneurs.

We also hope to attract more Chinese tourists to our shores and to experience the wide variety of tourism offerings we have. In this regard, we have already expanded our visa application facilitation centers to nine all over China.

In order to have a win-win relationship, South Africa must be able to leverage on Chinese investments for local development especially in skills transfers and through the active involvement of local entrepreneurs in Chinese ventures on the continent. Africa is the next frontier in terms of development. Partnering with China will yield more real results if the investments create local employment in a socially and environmentally sustainable way. We are working closely with China toward the realisation of our industrialisation plan as well as encouraging China to increase her investments into our country. China has made a commitment to encourage her enterprises to increase investment in South Africa's manufacturing industry and promote the creation of value-adding activities in close proximity to the source of raw materials. 

All in all, the expansion and deepening of political, business and people-to-people relations between South Africa and China has been warmly welcomed by both sides. This sound political relationship between the two countries has laid a foundation for increased economic cooperation and should also be seen as an impetus for implementing South Africa's economic priorities, and to further enhance its economic relations with its biggest single country trading partner.

The key elements underpinning this robust relationship are deep bonds of friendship, mutual trust and respect, equality, win-win relations, and a mutual desire to build a better world and thus a prosperous future for humanity.

The author is South African ambassador to China.

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