South Africa and China: What next for relations between the two countries
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Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between South Africa and China on 1 January 1998, and the creation of the high level SA - China Bi-National Commission in 2000, China - South Africa cooperation has indeed grown from strength to strength, delivering many fruitful outcomes.
The elevation of bilateral cooperation to the level of a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership“ in 2010 was a significant highlight which was defined by three key pillars, those being strategic, multi dimensional and mutually beneficial.
This constructive relationship is underpinned by four important cooperation platforms, namely the Forum on China - Africa Cooperation, Brics, the Belt and Road Initiative, and South-South Cooperation. These platforms continue to bring concrete benefits to both countries and peoples.
China has been South Africa ‘s largest trading partner in Africa over the last decade.
People to people exchanges have grown by leaps and bounds. SA and China also consistently maintain close coordination on international and regional affairs, jointly contributing to safeguarding world peace, promoting international governance reform and upholding the interests of developing countries and emerging economies.
Marking the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties between South Africa and China in 2018, Presidents Xi Jinping and Cyril Ramaphosa were effusive in their praise for the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership which “had made great strides and demonstrated a strong growth momentum in political trust, economic and trade cooperation, people to people exchanges and strategic coordination.
It was also agreed “to accelerate the implementation of the agreements reached and elevate the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in the new era to a new level.
This was a message that also strongly emerged, prior to the onset of Covid 19, from two recent “bilateral” meetings between Presidents Xi Jinping and President Cyril Ramaphosa on the occasion of the G20 Summit in Osaka in June 2019 and during the BRICS Summit in Brasilia in November 2019.
In fact, President Ramaphosa stated at the time: “I firmly believe that the bilateral relationship between SA and China has never been on a stronger footing.”
It was agreed during these discussions that China and SA, as two major developing countries and emerging economies, “need to boost the economic development in their respective countries , improving the livelihoods of its people ia through enhanced strategic communication, shared experience in governance, support each others core interests and to synenergize development strategies”.
A strong focus was placed by the two leaders on the expansion of two way trade and enhanced cooperation on industrial capacity building , infrastructure and advancement of the Belt and Road Initiative.
President Ramaphosa viewed the outcome of these bilaterals "on the way forward" as of particular importance in view of the serious economic challenges that face South Africa, in realizing its economic goals in the interest of “SA, Africa and a better world".
As both sides set out to pursue and implement the instructions by the two leaders to” elevate” the cooperation in the context of the Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation” to the next level Covid 19 struck with profound ramifications for global health governance and wreaking havoc on the global economy.
In fact President Ramaphosa stated that even after SA “turned the tide" against Covid-19, it will have to continue to confront a contracting economy with growing unemployment, a message which China took to heart.
While China is gradually recovering and restoring its economy to full capacity, it is cognizant of the fact that Africa and South Africa are increasingly facing formidable economic challenges.
With the virus raging in Africa, China, while having dealt with it's own prevention of the virus in a commendable and resolute manner , is increasingly sharing its experiences with Africa and is lending a timely hand to support the continent including SA.
China has, in fact, proved itself to be a responsible global leader, having moved to the world’s centre stage with a hugely successful growth model and with an unwavering commitment to international cooperation which has turned it into a “force for global stability".
Also during recent telephonic conversations between Presidents Ramaphosa and Xi Jinping , it was reaffirmed that China and SA, as two major developing countries and members of the UNSC, BRICS and the G20, should step up its strategic consultation and cooperation not only on a bilateral, but also on a multilateral level, as a result of the challenges flowing from the spread of Covid 19 globally, also on the African continent.
Thus apart from the anticipated enhanced economic cooperation between SA and China, the rapidly evolving political and economic international landscape, shifting geopolitical balances of power and a weak global economy, in a post Covid world, will inevitably necessitate closer cooperation between China and SA on:
Supporting Africa’s health governance and battle against Covid-19, its economic recovery, sustaining the “silencing of the guns" and Agenda 2063 also in an UN /G20 / multilateral context.
The strengthening of multilateralism and the democratization of global governance.
Addressing weakened global economic growth with the gap between rich and poor widening , prospects of increasing trade protectionism and isolationism.
Global and regional security challenges such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.
Advancement of the critical issue of climate change
Based on the constructive outcomes of recent deliberations between Presidents Xi Jinping and Ramaphosa , the” new level “ of cooperation on economic , people to people exchanges and global governance will be characterized by stepping up consultation and coordination in a strategic , focused and results oriented manner by putting the mechanisms of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and Bi-National Commission to full use.
Both governments agree that giving substance to the instructions of the two leaders would require ongoing consultation, joint planning and monitoring of progress with the involvement of business.
Given the reality of an increasingly volatile and uncertain world with ongoing global health governance issues, economic upheaval, looming global security challenges, and a lack of global leadership, SA and Africa are bound to rely more heavily than ever before on its cooperation with its “friend in need" China.
China has assured President Ramaphosa of its assistance in ensuring that ”we limit the damage to our economy, society and people and get our economy back onto a path of recovery.
* Ambassador Gert Grobler is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University, Jinhua, China.
** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media.