South Africa and China Revamp 10 Year Program For Strategic Cooperation

buildings in south africa
Credit: Rohan Reddy

The fact that South Africa is one of China’s most important and strategic countries among the 54 African countries can largely be confirmed from recent developments between the two countries. South Africa and China are currently working on a new 10-year strategic program for cooperation, as the current one nears its end, News24 reported. 

The new partnership which is expected to be signed before the end of this year will focus on collaboration in areas including higher education, skills transfer, health, the digital economy, science and technology, Public Enterprises, Minister Pravin Gordhan said at an online briefing hosted by the Chinese Embassy on Monday. 

An initial five- to 10-year strategic program was adopted at the end of 2014, during a visit by former South African President Jacob Zuma to China. 

The Speciality Of The China-South Africa Relations

Over the past two decades, diplomatic relations between China and South Africa, which was established on January 1, 1998, have evolved from a Partnership to a Strategic Partnership to what is now a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. It is important to note here that, the ‘level’ of ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP)’ is one of the highest diplomatic relations in China’s foreign policy and relations with other countries. And It usually indicates the importance of countries to Beijing’s strategic national objectives. 

A Global Times report noted that “when President Xi Jinping met President Jacob Zuma at the BRICS Xiamen Summit 2017, he has told that in recent years the development of the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and South Africa maintains a strong momentum and that bilateral relations are at their best in history. During this visit, South Africa and China signed 23 agreements valued at over R94 billion ($7.38 billion). The value of these agreements is historic as it is the highest value of deals ever recorded in South Africa’s history during a state visit.”

Invited by China, South Africa joined BRICS in 2010 and since then South Africa has been working closely with China under the BRICS frame. 

In late August, a former Chinese assistant foreign minister, Chen Xiaodong, was appointed the new Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to South Africa, making him the sixth envoy to Pretoria. The appointment of such a high profile personality, experts remarked shows the importance of South Africa to China. 

International relations scholar, Oscar Van Heerden, 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 stated 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.”

“South Africa has been China’s biggest trading partner in Africa for 10 years and China the largest recipient of South African goods and services for 11 years”, said Chen Xiaodong, China’s recently appointed ambassador to South Africa. In 2019, total trade was $43.2 billion between the two nations. 

Why does South Africa remain one of the most important diplomatic outpost on the African continent for Beijing?

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