This makes South Africa the first African country to launch such a mechanism with China, which has already launched similar mechanisms with six other countries – the US, Russia, the UK, France, Indonesia and the EU.
The three-day people-to-people exchange is being co-hosted by Vice-Premier of the State Council of China Liu Yandong and Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa.
“People-to-people relations are often called soft diplomacy. Learning about each other's world view, belief systems and way of life is a critical part of creating a better world for all,” Mthethwa said at yesterday's inaugural launch.
“Central to our efforts in the field of international relations and diplomacy is a notion of people-to-people relations with partner countries, jointly engaging each other and deepening our understanding of ourselves. Civil society is central to the realisation of this goal.”
The two countries hope that the mechanism will deepen mutual understanding between the peoples of South Africa and China, and enhance people-to-people exchanges and co-operation in the areas of culture, education, communications, health, science, technology, sports, tourism, women and youth.
In her keynote speech, Vice-Premier Liu lauded the setting up of the mechanism by President Xi Jingping and President Jacob Zuma as a visionary decision, which marks a milestone in the history of ties between the countries.
“At FOCAC we agreed to upgrade relations to a comprehensive strategic and co-operative partnership We should pursue closer cultural interactions, policy co-ordination, and people-to-people exchanges to advance common progress.”
In her remarks, Liu highlighted the long history between the civilisations of China and what is today modern-day South Africa.
“Ceramics from China were found on the site of the ancient Kingdom of Mapungubwe, which flourished 1 000 years ago in what is today South Africa.”
Liu also noted that during the anti-apartheid Struggle Chairman Mao Zedong cared about the battle against racist rule and in May 1954 sent a message expressing China's full support for the Struggle.
The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1998 and relations have gone from strength to strength with China having been South Africa's largest trading partner for eight consecutive years. There is currently a two-way trade volume of US$35.3 billion (R459bn).
People-to-people relations have been growing with increasing numbers of Chinese students studying in South Africa, the establishment of Confuscius Institutes, as well as sister provinces and cities.
South Africa is the first country in Africa to include Chinese teaching in its national education system. Many South Africans have become fans of Chinese martial arts and Peking Opera.
Similarly, South African dance and wine have become increasingly popular with the Chinese and a 2015 documentary released in Beijing highlighted the stories of the growing number of South Africans living in China.
Further cementing ties between the two countries is seen as a win-win co-operation, and South Africa can benefit from China's experience in lifting 700 million of its people out of poverty.
In 2016 alone, China lifted 10 million of its citizens out of poverty.
Liu shared with her South African colleagues that China intends to create 50 million new urban jobs over the next five years.
The sharing of this type of innovation and developmental planning has been welcomed by South African ministers, who will participate in the historic exchange over the coming days.
The Chinese vice-premier concluded her remarks with the African proverb “When spiders unite they can tie down a lion”, in conjunction with the Chinese proverb, “When brothers are of the same mind, they can break metal”.
Both vividly tell a simple truth: that only through win-win co-operation can we make big achievements that deliver long-term benefits.