Summit raises host’s profile in continent
South Africa now has one of the strongest relationships with China of any African country, according to a leading international relations expert.
Chris Alden, head of the foreign policy program at the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg, insists this is mainly due to China’s key role in South Africa being admitted as one of the BRICS emerging nations in 2010.
Despite being Africa’s second-largest economy, it is dwarfed by fellow members, Russia, India and Brazil as well as China.
“For the (South African President Jacob) Zuma presidency, this remains one of the major foreign policy accomplishments,” he says.
Some believe the strength of the relationship is evidenced by South Africa being the first African nation to hold a full summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, or FOCAC, on Dec 4 and 5.
Addis Ababa held a ministerial
CHRIS ALDEN, conference in 2006 as did Sharm ElSheikh in Egypt in 2009.
Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at Chatham House, the London-based foreign policy think tank, believes it is a major coup for South Africa to host FOCAC.
“I think it is really important for South Africa’s international relations and it comes at the time when the government is having a lot of political problems domestically,” he says.
“It shores up the fact that as a member of BRICS it is now part of an elite club and it is holding a summit and bringing all the African leaders to Johannesburg.”
Vines also believes that South Africa’s leaders are among the few on the continent who firmly believe in the South-South agenda.
“There is an emphasis on SouthSouth Cooperation that you don’t find elsewhere on the continent currently. They are firmly looking eastward. I think other African countries are becoming more balanced in their relationships. They are neither proWest or pro-East.”
Alden, also reader in international relations at the London School of Economics and author of
— one of the first books to be published on the new relationship — says the closeness of the relationship between South Africa and China is based on longstanding ties.
Chinese migrants came to the area that eventually became South African in the late 19th century and there are now three Chinatowns in Johannesburg alone.
“South Africans have known Chinese people throughout their lives, have gone to school and worked with them and that kind of thing.”
The academic, who also co-wrote a recent paper, South Africa and China: The Making of a Partnership with Yu-Shan Wu, says what South Africa needs from China is more industrial investment.
“This type of investment remains quite small as it does throughout the rest of the continent in comparison. There are a few examples like automotive assembly plants in Pretoria but they are isolated compared to the investments made by the UK, US and France, who want to make things for South Africa’s fast growing consumer market.”
Vines believes the long- term benefit for South Africa of a closer relationship with China could be a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
Since World War II, there have only been five members — the US, UK, France, China and Russia — but many UN members want reform.
“If there is reform, there will be competition for which sub-Saharan country gets a permanent seat and clearly South Africa will be vying with Nigeria, and a close relationship with China could be really important for that.”
South Africans have known Chinese people throughout their lives, have gone to school and worked with them and that kind of thing.”
Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at Chatham House
Chris Alden of the South African Institute of International Affairs