Dr Iqbal Survé
China leads South Africa in many respects, from the size of its population and the size of the country to its economy.

The country has the second-biggest economy in the word, but the journey to economic prosperity was not easy and did not happen overnight.

During the late seventies the Chinese had one of the worst-performing economies in the world, tens of millions of Chinese people faced starvation and the country had a closed-door policy when it came to investments.

Change started during the late seventies when reformist Deng Xiaoping came into power. He dealt with the agricultural sector first. Food supplies and production were running alarmingly low. Families were given land to farm and a portion of their produce went to the state.

They opened their borders to investment, eased trading policies and looked at new enterprises which could deliver enterprise and employment opportunities.

As they opened their borders to global capital, human resources and technologies flowed in, enabling the Chinese to re-industrialise the economy and to emerge as the world’s second-largest economy. The achievement - going from a situation of economic and social devastation to the world’s second-largest economy - is a history lesson we can learn from.

South Africa is much smaller than China, but faces similar challenges. This means we can learn from their experiences, including weighing up the cost of development versus the cost of the environment, for example.

We find ourselves at a crossroads in our development with unemployment, a lack of skills, race-based inequality and an economy that is slowly picking up. In response to the challenges, the SA government has developed a number of policies, including the Industrial Policy Action Plan, to address challenges to economic and industrial growth and race-based poverty, inequality and unemployment.

To achieve our goals, the government has signed trade exchanges and partnerships with a number of countries. One of our great strategic partnerships is the Brazil, Russia, India China and SA alliance (Brics).

Brics is more than a trading platform, it is where countries learn from each other via cultural exchanges and where a myriad of beneficial relationships can be developed.

Last year intra-Brics exports were about R4 trillion. China accounted for 40%, India for 27% Russia for 16%, Brazil for 10%, and South Africa for 7%.

Brics nations may have different ideologies and policies, but what is important is that we seek common ground. We should ensure that the relationships are genuinely inclusive and equally beneficial.

One of our relationships is with China - SA’s biggest trading partner. We established diplomatic ties in 1998 but even before then, the ANC in exile engaged China for support and counsel.

Notable moments included Oliver Tambo seeking support and counsel from China for the ANC in exile during the sixties, right through to the mid-eighties.

Earlier this year China and South Africa established a people-to-people exchange mechanism which encourages exchanges in culture, education, communications, health, science, technology, sports, tourism, women and youth.

As part of the people-to-people exchange, Chinese and African media houses have agreed to deepen cooperation in information sharing, best practice and training to improve the storytelling about Sino-Africa relations.

Earlier this month China’s cabinet, the State Council, announced a number of measures for increased foreign investments. They will also be making the investment environment more law-based, internationalised and convenient.

It is important for the progress of the development of both countries’ low to middle-income groups to consolidate their position as middle-income countries. It is a win-win situation, in a mutually beneficial environment, through policies, particularly in the economic spheres, that will lead to development.

Economic development is an important ingredient to building social cohesion, since development ultimately leads to peace. Peace, development and cooperation are important interlinks in the success of emerging markets.

* Dr Survé writes in his capacity as chairman of the South African Brics business council

The Sunday Independent