Johannesburg - The red carpet was laid out in Cape Town on Tuesday for the Vice President of the People’s Republic of China, Dr Li Yuanchao, who is visiting South Africa at the invitation of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The two leaders co-chaired the 6th South Africa-China Bi-National Commission in Parliament, followed by a courtesy call on President Jacob Zuma at his residence Genadendal, and then a formal dinner hosted by Ramaphosa.
This is the most high-level visit by a Chinese leader since the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping almost a year ago, when he participated in the celebrated Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (Focac) in Sandton.
The essence of this visit were the discussions which took place during the bi-national commission where the two leaders heard reports from subcommittees on foreign relations, economy and trade, science and technology, mining, energy and education.
It was agreed by both sides that remarkable progress had been made in relations between the two countries over the past three years, characterised as a comprehensive strategic partnership.
The highlights of the discussions centred around the need to continue concerted co-operation on infrastructure-building, special economic zone and industrial park development, equipment manufacturing, production capacity, blue economy, energy and resources development, finance, investment and trade facilitation.
It was agreed that there will be enriched and expanded people-to-people and cultural exchanges, as well as strengthened co-operation in the fields of human resource development, education, tourism, media and the youth.
Such exchanges will be facilitated by the new Air China Beijing-Joburg route, which has already increased the number of Chinese tourists to South Africa.
The goal of enhanced collaboration on international and regional affairs is to be realised not only between the two countries, but within the context of Brics. China and South Africa have agreed to support each other in hosting the Brics summits in 2017 and 2018.
Li used the opportunity to visit Chinese car manufacturing plants in the Eastern Cape earlier in the week, which are set to create tens of thousands of local jobs.
The Beijing Automobile Group is set to invest R11 billion to open a modern plant in the Coega Industrial Development Zone with annual production of 100 000 vehicles. This will consolidate South Africa’s position as the number one automobile manufacturing country in Africa.
Examples of other strategic development projects include locomotives jointly produced by China CRRC and Transnet. Through technology transfer and local production, the joint venture - which is expected to become a major production base for the African railway network - has helped Transnet to upgrade products and technologies.
Chinese businesses in South Africa have also taken an active part in the planning and development of the Musina-Makhado special economic zone, which is building an energy and metallurgical complex.
Li and Ramaphosa not only have a great deal to showcase in terms of SA-China co-operation, but in the notable accomplishments since the Focac summit last year. After the summit it took only eight months to sign 243 agreements which were business and investment related, totalling more than $50 billion (R706bn).
There is also the 753km-long Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway, which started operation last month. There are now 3 100 Chinese enterprises in Africa, which represent an investment of more than $100bn.
South Africa’s communication with China in the future on critical issues such as the global economy, financial governance, climate change, cyber security, counter-terrorism and human rights is recognised as critical in an era where global politics is increasingly being realigned.
Independent Foreign Service