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Pragmatically Aligned
China-South Africa ties can drive common development on the continent
By He Wenping | VOL.10 January 2018 ·2018-01-05
He Wenping

The relationship between China and South Africa will enter into an unprecedented year of development starting the first day of 2018 when the two countries celebrate the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties. South Africa, as Africa's largest economy, not only successfully hosted the Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in December 2015, but also has actively aligned itself with the Belt and Road Initiative. Moreover, boosted by the achievements made at the summit and the Belt and Road Initiative, China-South Africa relations will embrace their best development period in history, and will serve as an engine leading the development of China-Africa relations.

Pragmatic cooperation

FOCAC, established in 2000, has been an important platform and effective mechanism for conducting collective dialogues and pragmatic cooperation between China and African countries. After the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed in 2013, FOCAC, as an effective cooperation mechanism, gained a new impetus for development. At the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit, the first of its kind held on the African continent, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced China's 10 major plans to boost cooperation with Africa. To ensure the successful implementation of these plans, which are driven by efforts to accelerate Africa's industrialization and China-Africa cooperation in production capacity, China pledged $60 billion in funding support to Africa.

Many of locomotives in South Africa are produced in China   XINHUA

Chinese Ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian said that South Africa is a foothold to align the African continent with the Belt and Road Initiative in a pragmatic manner. Bilateral cooperation to promote connectivity of policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people has achieved fruitful outcomes under the framework of the initiative.

Multiple areas of interest

As for policy, the two countries, both developing nations and emerging markets, have closely aligned their visions in the international organizations and multilateral platforms like the UN, G20, and BRICS in an effort to improve global governance and safeguard the common interests of developing countries. The two countries signed the China-South Africa 5-10 Year Framework on Cooperation in 2015.

In the area of connectivity of infrastructure and facilities, there are several direct flights and freight ships routes between the two countries. Locomotives made in China have been exported to South Africa on a large scale. Chinese IT firms like Huawei and ZTE have been actively participating in the telecommunications infrastructure construction in South Africa, while a number of important bilateral infrastructure cooperation projects are being actively promoted.

Trade between the two countries has strong economic complementarity which explains why China is the largest trade partner of South Africa for eight consecutive years. And South Africa is China's largest trade partner in Africa for seven years in a row.

Huawei and South African officials held a farewell ceremony for the first batch of trainees of the "Seeds for the Future" project

Financial integration and cooperation is also a sphere of fruitful and beneficial results. In October 2007, Chinese state-owned bank ICBC bought a 20-percent stake in South Africa's Standard Bank. China's first bank for providing RMB clearing service in Africa is located in South Africa and RMB has been made a South African reserve currency. Offshore renminbi bonds have also been issued in South Africa.

In the all-important field of people-to-people ties, Chinese language has been included in the national education system of South Africa, and China-South Africa High-Level People-to-People Exchange Mechanism was established in early 2017. To highlight the close collaboration, the Year of South Africa was celebrated in China in 2014 and the Year of China was held in South Africa the following year. Besides, China's first Zulu language course was officially launched in Beijing Foreign Studies University in 2017.

Local people visit Huawei Information and Communications Technology Innovation and Experience Center in Johannesburg in 2016

Looking ahead, China and South Africa will continue to expand common interests and areas for partnerships. The focus will be on infrastructure, human resource training, production capacity building, agricultural modernization, maritime economy, tourism, finance, security, people-to-people exchanges and cooperation on international affairs. What deserves special mention is the field of marine economy. South Africa has a huge potential for marine economy and is an important strategic pivot for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road on the continent. In the future, the two countries should carry out marine economic cooperation based on port, shipbuilding and fisheries.

SA's leading role

Being acknowledged as Africa's economic powerhouse, South Africa is also important politically and in the field of diplomacy. South Africa has been working relentlessly to promote the development of the continent and regional peace and security. The country's World Cup 2010 hosting was a great success. In addition, South Africa is the only African country in the BRICS bloc and the G20. Because of this, South Africa has unique influence and plays an important role in advancing the development of Sino-African relations. The year 2018 will be a new milestone for China-Africa relations. South Africa will host the BRICS Summit in 2018 and China is to host the Seventh FOCAC Ministerial Conference. These events will not only provide a guide for future development of the diplomatic ties between China and South Africa, but also contribute to the future sustainable development of China-Africa relations on the whole. Therefore, we should push forward the ongoing development of China-South Africa relations and give full play to South Africa's role as an important bridgehead to align the continent with the Belt and Road Initiative. This initiative will enhance the continent's cooperation with China for common development, so as to make a greater contribution to the development of China-Africa relations and world peace.

(The author is a senior researcher of the Charhar Institute and a researcher of the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)

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