President Jacob Zuma arrived in China on Wednesday morning for a two-day state visit to the People's Republic. The key objective of the delegation is strengthen bi-lateral relations and cement China's role in South African development. On the heels of the Dalai Lama’s visa embarrassment, 2015 will be the Year of China in South Africa. It's time Zuma used his kowtowing to boost SA's economy. By GREG NICOLSON.
When Zuma visited China in 2012, he was awarded an honorary professorship from Beijing’s esteemed Peking University. The new Honorary Professor of International Relations used his acceptance speech to promote education initiatives between South Africa and China (the theme of the event), trumpet the government’s successes and promote China’s role in SA’s development.
Zuma flew back into China on Wednesday, his first state visit since re-election, with an entourage in tow. The trip will last until Saturday and separate talks will be held with President Xi Jinping, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, and top legislator Zhang Dejiang. Zuma is joined by a 100-strong business delegation ahead of the South Africa-China Business Forum on Saturday. According to Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, 10 agreements are expected to be signed.
“Leaders of the two countries will have an in-depth exchange of views on deepening China-South Africa relations in an all-round way, expanding practical cooperation in various fields, as well as on international and regional issues of common interest. The two sides will sign a variety of cooperation documents covering politics, trade, energy, public health, agriculture and other fields,” said China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying ahead of the visit.
In a press release, Zuma’s spokesperson Mac Maharaj said the visit aims to “ensure that our relations with China remain central to realising our developmental agenda through our foreign policy, as we increase our efforts to implement the National Development Plan (NDP), cooperating in the areas of agriculture, environmental affairs, trade and industry as well as finance.”
Writing in The New Age, Radebe said the agreements “in the pipeline” concern requirements for the export and import of products. Promoting investment while the cooperation of Chinese companies in SA manufacturing, such as the building of passenger trains, will be reviewed.
Maharaj cited two areas of interest as: “Obtaining support for South Africa’s industrialisation agenda by securing investment in the development of science and technology, agro-processing; mining and mineral beneficiation, renewable energy, finance and tourism; [and] reviewing progress and cooperation in infrastructure development. This includes reviewing progress in the locomotive procurement project, particularly cooperation in equipment manufacturing and the localisation of procurement through joint ventures with South African companies.”
China is South Africa’s largest trading partner and its trade with South Africa is higher than any other country on the continent. The year 2013’s bilateral trade grew 32% from 2012 to R270 billion. Zuma’s Cabinet delegation highlights the importance of the visit, including ministers in international relations, the presidency, finance, trade and industry, environmental affairs, transport, and agriculture.
In September, the Industrial Development Corporation signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s Hebei Iron & Steel Group to open a steel mill in Phalaborwa worth $4.5 billion, which, if successful, will boost local industry and jobs. Two Chinese manufacturers have also won just over half of a R50 billion contract to build diesel locomotives for Transnet in Pretoria and Durban. South Africa has also signed a draft nuclear cooperation agreement with China, which is a precursor for using Chinese technology in a procurement that could cost up to a R1 trillion. The agreement has also been signed with France and Russia.
Two things should be at the top of the South African delegation’s mind. Firstly, the trade imbalance. China is largely importing raw mining materials from South Africa while we import finished value-added products. Local industry suffers, and that needs to change. Radebe says as we move into the “Year of China in South Africa” that “there have been deliberate moves to increase investment by Chinese firms in South Africa”.
Secondly, slower than expected growth in China might weaken the global and South African economy. In November, Moody’s warned South Africa was vulnerable to China-related risks. “Resource exporters such as Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Zambia, Republic of the Congo and South Africa are the most vulnerable, given their significant trade linkages to China. In addition, countries such as Zambia, Nigeria, Angola and South Africa heavily rely on foreign direct investment contributions from China, [although] these tend to be less volatile than trade or portfolio flows,” said the ratings agency.
South Africa’s foreign policy once again sustained significant damages to its image when the Dalai Lama withdrew his visa application earlier this year after it was hinted he wouldn’t be able to come to South Africa. In solidarity, Nobel laureates decided not to come as the government displayed its obsequiousness to Beijing. China thanked SA for its “correct position” on the matter.
It was an embarrassment to the country. As Zuma meets Chinese leaders this week and holds discussions with our largest trading partner, there should be high pressure on the president to at least take advantage of his friendship with the economic giant and bring back more than an honorary degree to boost South Africa’s floundering economy. DM
Photo: Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) greets South African President Jacob Zuma (R) during the plenary session of the 6th Summit of the BRICS in Fortaleza, Brazil, 15 July 2014. EPA/Jarbas Oliveira
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