Ramaphosa to call China’s Xi while Cabinet silent on moving BRICS Summit
Just two months from the planned BRICS Summit in South Africa in August, President Cyril Ramaphosa was on the phone this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Up next is a call with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. What is the game plan?
President Cyril Ramaphosa will have a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week as Pretoria tries to resolve its dilemma about Russian President Vladimir Putin entering South Africa to attend the BRICS Summit in August.
Ramaphosa’s call to Xi is fuelling speculation that he might ask the Chinese leader if he would be prepared to host the summit in China and co-chair it with South Africa. Senior officials have told Daily Maverick that moving the summit is an option being considered to avoid Putin visiting South Africa.
Ramaphosa spoke on the phone to Putin on Wednesday to discuss the African peace mission on the Russia-Ukraine war, the Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg in July, and the upcoming BRICS Summit in Johannesburg in August, a Kremlin statement said.
Interestingly, in its statement about the call, the South African Presidency mentioned only the peace mission and the Russia-Africa Summit as topics of the conversation – but not the BRICS Summit.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Ramaphosa calls Putin after crunch Cabinet meeting and ahead of Africa-led peace mission
Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni kept mum on the details of the call between Ramaphosa and Putin in a media briefing on Wednesday: “They remain conversations between the two of them… Presidents are allowed discussions among themselves.”
By Thursday evening, South Africa had not asked for an equivalent call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, his country’s embassy in SA said.
Ntshavheni confirmed that Ramaphosa would make a second phone call this week, to Xi. The other BRICS leaders – Brazilian President Lula da Silva and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – would receive calls from Ramaphosa in due course, she said.
Ramaphosa could use his call with Xi to discuss the proposal of moving the BRICS Summit – scheduled to take place in Johannesburg from 22 to 24 August – to China.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest in March, charging him with war crimes for his alleged complicity in abducting and deporting Ukrainian children to Russia. As a member of the ICC, South Africa would be obliged to arrest Putin if he travelled to South Africa for the BRICS Summit.
The South African government had earlier said that it was seeking a legal solution that would allow it to host Putin, while still complying with its legal obligations to the ICC and to its own ICC Implementation Act, which domesticates the Rome Statute of the ICC.
But time is running out for South Africa to make the necessary amendments. Officials have said they are now considering options to avoid Putin visiting South Africa, such as holding the summit online.
There were also rumblings of the summit being moved to another country during the BRICS foreign ministers’ meeting in Cape Town last week. China seems the preferred host if a new venue is chosen.
It was earlier reported that Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting would see a proposal for South Africa to co-chair the BRICS Summit with China. This came after an interministerial committee (IMC) headed by Deputy President Paul Mashatile met on Monday to discuss the options.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Cabinet to consider moving BRICS Summit to China
On Thursday, Ntshavheni said that as things stood, South Africa would still host the BRICS Summit and no contrary decision had as yet been made. She did not confirm whether the matter had been discussed during Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting.
‘Nothing has changed’
“We have indicated that, as we speak now, nothing has changed. South Africa is hosting the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg. If there are any changes from the work of the IMC – what they recommend, and a decision is taken – there will be an announcement to that effect. For now, the BRICS Summit is taking place in South Africa and there’s no decision taken contrary to that,” she said.
She reiterated that the IMC was still deliberating and was “considering a number of permutations and proposals”, as well as seeking guidance from the Cabinet.
Ntshavheni’s disclosure that the IMC was still considering where and how to hold the BRICS Summit may suggest serious disagreements between the government and the ANC about this issue.
Western countries would be pleased if Putin did not visit South Africa for the summit and Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, told African journalists on Wednesday that Ukraine would also welcome this, as it would show that it was becoming increasingly difficult for Putin to travel.
But some diplomats have suggested it would be a great blow to South Africa’s international prestige to chair BRICS, but not to be able to host its summit.
There has also been speculation that China – a close ally of Russia – would refuse to help South Africa by hosting the summit and might tell South Africa that if it does not let Putin attend, Xi will not attend either.
Meanwhile, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor is continuing her outreach to G7 governments to explain the African peace mission to Ukraine and Russia.
On Thursday, she had a 15-minute call with Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa who “expressed his respect for African leaders’ efforts to achieve peace in Ukraine”, the Japanese embassy in Pretoria said.
Hayashi also stated that Japan’s position was that “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is a clear violation of international law, and just and lasting peace in Ukraine cannot be achieved without the withdrawal of Russia from Ukraine”.
The demand that Russia withdraw from Ukraine as the basic condition for peace appears to have been the same basic message that Pandor has been getting in her meetings or phone calls with other G7 foreign ministers. DM