A former Chinese assistant foreign minister, Chen Xiaodong, has been appointed the new Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to South Africa. He has arrived in South Africa to start his work as Beijing’s sixth envoy to Pretoria. As former assistant foreign minister, Chen was responsible for African affairs. His appointment replaces Lin Songtian who was recalled to Beijing in April. His predecessor, Li was rather known to be outspoken.
On his arrival in Pretoria, the new Ambassador-designate is reported by IOL news to have stated that “in the context of profound changes in the international situation and the COVID-19 pandemic unseen in a century, it is more imperative than ever for China and South Africa to strengthen solidarity and co-operation.” Chen added that “as the new Chinese ambassador to South Africa at this special juncture, I am keenly aware of my responsibility and mission…I will do my utmost to fulfill my duties by working with friends from all walks of life in South Africa to strive for greater progress in China-South Africa relations.”
“During the pandemic, China and South Africa joined hands in fighting the disease… We showed solidarity and firm resolve to overcome the difficulties, injecting positive energy into China-Africa and global anti-pandemic cooperation…China is also ready to work with Africa to chart the course for post-pandemic cooperation, and follow through on the outcomes of the FOCAC Beijing Summit and the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19,” Chen remarked at his first event– reception to mark 71st anniversary of PRC founding at the Chinese Embassy in South Africa.
Chen is no stranger to his new country, as he has visited South Africa and Africa several times as a Chinese government official. “As Assistant Foreign Minister covering Africa, I made many trips to South Africa and other African countries. I saw for myself the fast and all-round progress of China-South Africa and China-Africa relations,” Chen said at an event marking the 71st Anniversary of The Founding of the People’s Republic of China.
International relations scholars and China-Africa experts have commented on this new development in Sino-South Africa relations, providing different perspectives on why a ‘Heavy Hitter’ like Chen will be appointed by Beijing to South-Africa at this time.
International relations scholar, Oscar Van Heerden, is reported by CapeTalk to have commented that “it is quite an honor to have such a high-level official from the Chinese government to be appointed ambassador to South Africa… if you understand anything about the Chinese, it is a sign of utter respect towards the South African government.” Oscar further stated that President Xi’s appointment is a clear message from Beijing that they take South Africa seriously adding that Xiaodong has served in many African countries and has a wealth of experience.
Eric Olander of the China-Africa Project is reported by BusinessMeverick to have also commented that Chen’s appointment “reaffirms Beijing’s view that South Africa remains its most important diplomatic outpost on the continent.” Eric is further reported to have noted that given Chen’s previous “high-profile roles at the foreign ministry, he is already well acquainted with most African leaders and their respective foreign ministers. This might indicate that Chen will assume a larger role in China’s Africa policy beyond his duties in South Africa.”
According to his official CV, the 54-year-old was born in Anhui province and started his service in China’s foreign affairs department in 1987 as a staff member in the department of West Asian and North African affairs. He worked in Chinese embassies in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, and the United Kingdom before becoming an ambassador in Singapore in 2015, and assistant minister of foreign affairs in 2017. China has been South Africa’s largest trading partner for 11 years, and South Africa China’s largest trading partner in Africa for 10 years.
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