Foreign policy at crossroads
THE DIPLOMATIC spat between the government and the DA over Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga’s December trip to Taipei, Taiwan, spells trouble for South Africa’s foreign policy in this age of power shifts in our metros.
While some, including in the governing ANC, call for Msimanga’s diplomatic passport to be revoked, the spat has exposed the challenges of the “two centres of power” phenomenon in the key metros where the opposition swept to victory in last year’s local government elections.
It has also exposed the need for basic foreign policy induction for all new councillors, including in metros governed by coalitions.
The three spheres of government – local, provincial and national – have to work together to better the lives of citizens and protect the national interest.
The Department of International Relations and Co-operation says Msimanga has broken the country’s foreign policy protocols by visiting Taipei when South Africa recognises the One China policy that ties us only to Beijing as the legitimate government of the People’s Republic of China.
They add that even though Taiwan has an office in Pretoria, this is not an embassy and South Africa has no embassy in Taipei, and therefore no diplomatic ties between the two.
The department also say Msimanga was warned about the trip before he left the country, but he ignored them. And that’s where the problem begins – and not ends.
While the department is the custodian of our foreign policy, this issue requires party-to-party negotiations to ensure that the interests of the country come before narrow party political battles.
While DA mayors and other officials are within their rights to seek opportunities abroad for their metros, this must not be at the expense of the country’s interests. Foreign policy guidelines ought to be respected and the interests of the country must always come first, or we risk losing highly needed foreign direct investment, trade benefits and historic ties with countries that supported us during apartheid.
The debate on Msimanga’s trip must be healthy and take the country forward, rather than become a Twitter spat and political mudslinging where media statements condemning his actions and the DA firing back at the government and the ANC become the order of the day.
This matter deserves a proper sit-down where all parties must find one another. A solution must be found where the country’s interests must be put before political squabbling.
Globally, China is too important an ally to lose over petty political games. It is the world’s second biggest economy and our biggest trading partner, and a key role player in our foreign policy and in the influential Brics bloc.
And until the DA wins the elections and become the governing party at national level and changes the country’s foreign policy, it must respect foreign policy guidelines.
Otherwise, we will wake up one day to find a DA mayor has visited a country or group hostile to South Africa and its foreign interests.
We can’t allow that to happen.