After 20 years of development, South Africa-China bilateral relationship continues to blossom at all levels, from trade and investment to education, science and research, arts and culture, media, tourism, as well as political ties.
January 1, 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of South Africa. China is now South Africa's largest trade partner, while South Africa is one of China's major import sources, and the fourth largest investment destination. And of course, the two countries are both members in the BRICS group of emerging economies.
South Africa also has the largest number of Chinese in Africa. They began to arrive in South Africa in large numbers during the gold and diamond rushes of the 1870s, and these early immigrants are the ancestors of most of the Chinese population in the country.
Since the end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994, Chinese have begun entering South Africa again in large numbers, increasing the Chinese population to an estimated 300,000-400,000 today. In Johannesburg, in particular, a new Chinatown has emerged in the eastern suburbs, and there are even Chinese elected as South African parliament members.
People-to-people exchange through tourism also plays a very important part in this close relationship, with personal memories and experiences shaping the views of people from both countries.
Over the long term, they will define how South Africa and China can better understand and respect each other. Tourism brings people closer together in many ways.
Augrabies Falls National Park of South Africa (XINHUA)
Inbound Chinese boom
South Africa's core strength is its global appeal and respect for the people and culture of the Rainbow Nation. This is underpinned by the country's historic road to democracy and unique tourism interests, encouraging growing numbers of Chinese tourists to discover and experience one of the world's most exciting travel destinations. South Africa is proud of its tourism industry, which makes a great contribution to the national economy. As China has emerged as the world's largest market for outbound tourists, it has become one of South Africa's core tourism markets, with visitor numbers ballooning by a remarkable 38 percent to 117,144 in 2016 - or nearly 10,000 a month.
Chinese visitor spending is predicted to reach $100 million in 2017, making China a major contributor to South African tourism industry which now supports one in every 10 jobs in the country. In 2015 the industry created 32,000 new permanent jobs, raising the tourism workforce from 680,000 in 2014 to around 712,000 in 2016.
South African tourism has been embarking on a concerted drive to attract Chinese tourists since 2014, and the country has become increasingly interesting to Chinese visitors looking for compelling and authentic experiences.
Priceless once-in-a-lifetime experiences range from thrilling wildlife safaris to viewing the "Big Five" (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard), adrenalin-charged adventures, nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites amid breathtaking landscapes, world-class wineries and golf, as well as great-value shopping and dining.
South Africa boasts abundant tourism resources. In a country best known for wildlife safaris and game parks, tourists can also enjoy marine tourism - ocean safaris. Wildlife safaris at sea range from whale and dolphin watching at numerous coastal ports to close-up encounters with great white sharks on cage-diving boat expeditions in the Cape, viewing colonies of seals and penguins, and spectacular ocean safaris in Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth and, from Port St. Johns near Durban, encountering the great sardine run migrating up the east coast. Known as the Serengeti of the Sea, this unique diving adventure offers a great opportunity to witness the biggest migration of any fish species.
Jacaranda trees in Pretoria (ZHAI JIANLAN)
Many factors also lead to the rapid increase of Chinese tourists to South Africa. Direct Beijing-Johannesburg flights with Air China and South African Airways, as well as many more via Hong Kong of China,
Singapore and the Middle East have established closer air links between the two countries than ever before. Visa facilitation centers now exist in nine Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an and Shenyang. Two more will open up in early 2018, one in Kunming and the other in Chongqing, both in southwest China. These allow ease of access for Chinese travelers to South Africa and make their trip an even greater travel experience.
So that's a good reason why the Shanghai-based WITrip magazine recently voted South Africa the Best International Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions Destination and Most Satisfied Travel Destination.
There are a number of other initiatives taking place to enhance people-to-people relationships in China, including the most recent South African Open Day, which brought together South African companies in China, importers and distributors of South African products and other friends of South Africa to showcase the country through food, wine, teas, dance and celebration.