Gert Grobler: SA, China strategic partnership gains momentum



Published May 26, 2024


Ambassador Gert Grobler

On April 27, South Africa celebrated 30 years of democracy since the end of apartheid. Millions of South Africans jubilantly celebrated Freedom Day and Freedom Month, under the theme “30 Years of Democracy, Partnership, and Growth”, which reminded South Africans about the first democratic election in 1994.

In celebrating 30 years of freedom and democracy, South Africans will also continue to reflect on the values that have guided the country thus far; reconciliation, unity, and nation-building. It was only through a commitment to these principles that South Africa could overcome the divisions of the past and forge a common future based on mutual respect and understanding.

From inheriting a divided country, with gross inequalities in every aspect of life, South Africa has done much to bridge this divide. The government, however, remains aware that many challenges remain.

As regards South Africa’s foreign policy, the government has firmly focused on the following principles from the outset: the overriding importance of Africa and its development, a commitment to social justice and human rights, a belief in global solidarity, a just world order, international cooperation as well as a pursuit of international peace. As a result, South Africa’s active role and growing influence in international and regional affairs have often been praised by the family of nations.

It is a known fact, that South Africa and China share similar views on development, security, the international order and global governance.

Over the past decades, South Africa and China's longstanding friendship and cooperation have grown exponentially, delivering many fruitful outcomes across the board. Cooperation between the two countries in various fields still offers great potential and the South African side stands ready to work with China to strengthen political, economic, people-to-people and cultural exchanges between the two countries and achieve greater development and inject further momentum into the mutually beneficial South Africa-China comprehensive strategic partnership.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations approximately 25 years ago, the cooperation between the two countries has seen significant progress from a partnership, to a strategic partnership and then to the current comprehensive strategic partnership, with both countries advancing the bilateral relationship from a strategic and long-term perspective.

The existing South Africa and China comprehensive strategic partnership which is defined by two major characteristics of being strategic and mutually beneficial, and underpinned by four important cooperation platforms, namely the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation ( FOCAC ), BRICS, the Belt and Road Initiative and Global South cooperation, have brought substantive tangible benefits to both countries and peoples.

The establishment of the FOCAC in 2000, in particular, initiated a new “ game-changing “ phase in Africa and China cooperation and elevated it to a higher, more measurable, mutually beneficial, comprehensive and strategic level .

During the regular ongoing bilateral consultations between the South African and Chinese governments, both sides continue to fully recognise the critical role of the FOCAC in advancing the comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership between China and Africa.

It is against this background that the two governments also expressed a firm commitment to strengthen consultation and coordination on FOCAC matters to enhance practical implementation and cooperation in various sectors in the run up to the FOCAC which will be held in Beijing in September this year.

In fact, FOCAC since it’s inception, has tangibly contributed to the transformation of the longstanding traditional friendship and solidarity between China and Africa into a multi sectorial, concrete, measurable and mutually beneficial relationship which will undoubtedly continue to deepen and flourish at the FOCAC deliberations later this year. .

The aforementioned is effectively highlighted by the fact that twenty five years ago, the bilateral trade volume between South Africa and China stood at $ 1.6 billion. By 2022 it had grown to $56.7 billion, which is the largest global bilateral trade relationship for South Africa and also accounts for one-fifth of China-Africa trade.

During the last 27 years, the exports of South Africa to China have increased at an annualised rate of 16.1 percent, from $412 million in 1995 to $23.4 billion in 2022. South Africa is exporting more quality products to China. South African beef, citrus, wine, oysters, rooibos tea and many other products, are now very popular among Chinese consumers.

Trade between South Africa and China is set to grow further after the signing of 10 trade and purchasing agreements between South African and Chinese companies at the eighth session of the South Africa-China Joint Economic and Trade Commission in August 2023 which will contribute to job creation, particularly for young people, while boosting the South African economy.

This is of particular importance in the context of an increasingly uncertain global political and economic environment.

The growing cooperation between South Africa and China, through FOCAC and other cooperation platforms, increasingly serves as a source of development and mutual benefit not only between both countries but also regarding China’s ongoing commitment to supporting African development.

Africa is encouraged by China’s ongoing commitment to supporting African countries to meet the aspirations contained in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and to the success of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

Despite the solid progress in South Africa over the last 30 years, much more work needs to be done to address the numerous economic and social challenges facing the country and its resilient people.

South Africans are, however, thankful to China and its people for their continued constructive and loyal support and look forward to the deepening of the strategic partnership between the two nations as well as the further blossoming of friendship and understanding between the two peoples.

* Grobler is a senior research fellow at the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University and a former senior diplomat in the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL or Independent Media.

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