By Peter Fabricius

President Jacob Zuma has suggested in Beijing that South Africa may learn from the "political discipline" of China as a recipe for economic success.

Zuma asked, during a lecture at Renmin University in Beijing on Wednesday, what South Africa could learn from China.

He said the balance of economic power in the world had shifted dramatically in the first decade of the 21st century - from the North to the South and from the West to the East.

"China, for example, is once again assuming its historic position as a major power in the world," Zuma said in his talk on "South Africa, Africa and China in a Changing World".

During the global financial and economic crisis last year, the economies of the developing world, led by giants such as China, India and Brazil, had grown 4.5 percent faster than those of the rich countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

"In the past it was the other way around: when the industrialised countries sneezed, the world caught a cold.

"This time, the influenza has affected the industrialised countries most severely," Zuma added.

"Also, in the past, economists from the developed countries told the developing countries they should behave more like the developed countries.

"The developing world was told that if it did not Westernise and change its political systems to mirror those of the West, they could forget about achieving economic growth and development.

"Now we are asking what we can learn from other political systems and cultures," Zuma said.

"Is the political discipline in China a recipe for economic success, for example?"

Some observers were surprised that Zuma seemed to be touting undemocratic China as a political model for South Africa.

One expert on South Africa and China said Zuma was probably referring to Chinese Communist Party schools that groomed public sector talent and created a leadership pipeline - "quite a contrast to what we have".

Zuma conceded, however, that the US and EU economies remained the largest and would continue to play major roles in the world economy.

On Thursday, Zuma gave the keynote address at a China-South Africa investment forum in China's commercial capital, Shanghai.

It was the last stop of his visit to China.