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China and the sleeping South African media

Jeremy Goldkorn founded the popular China media website, and acts as editor and publisher. The site has tracked the changes in China's media and Internet on a daily basis since 2003 and also produces video interviews with people in culture and the media in China. Goldkorn produced the documentary film African Boots of Beijing. His writing has appeared in many Chinese and foreign publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, Life, and Cosmopolitan's China edition, covering a range of subjects from media regulation, Internet business, freedom of expression, the habits of young Chinese Internet users and Chinese consumer culture. He is a regular speaker at English and Chinese language conferences and events.

It could be taken from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels – the sleeping giant on the beach in Lilliput. Except this Lilliput is South Africa and the giant, China, is doing anything, but sleeping on our beaches.

There’s been an important visitor in South Africa for the last two days, but you wouldn’t know it from any of our newspapers or websites.

Xi Jinping, the Chinese vice president widely believed to be next in line as president and Communist Party boss, concludes a three-day visit to South Africa on Thursday.

With bilateral trade reaching more than R110 billion last year, China is now South Africa’s biggest trading partner and its most lucrative export destination. China’s ICBC bank is South Africa’s largest foreign investor ever, with a 20% stake in Standard Bank that it bought for R36.67 billion in 2008. Naspers is the most successful foreign investor in China’s media and internet sector, with a 35.2% stake in Tencent, China’s largest internet company with annual revenues in excess of R13 billion. SABMiller is the most successful foreign investor in China’s beer market, with a 49% stake in China Resources brewery, which controls about 20% of the country’s R300 billion beer market.

The government, the ANC and the Chinese Communist Party are developing very close ties. While any mention of this seems to be met with derision in South Africa, it’s not a bad thing at all: China has many lessons to offer South Africa when it comes to lifting millions out of poverty, and to finding developmental models that are undreamt of by the Washington consensus, but which nonetheless work. This really is a relationship that should be a part of the national discussion of where South Africa is heading, and not consigned to obscure pages of the nation’s media. (For more on ANC-CCP ties, see: “Lessons in state-party unity” at the M&G and “South Africa sends leaders to study in China” at the Global Post.)

The Chinese Communist Party bigwig who has been visiting South Africa, the 58-year-old Xi Jinping, is almost certain to rule China from 2013 until the end of the decade. His government’s relations with South Africa will deeply affect the way South Africans live, and the way the ANC rules us. South Africa’s relations with China are very likely to become more important than the political and business ties we have with the UK and the US.

But you wouldn’t know it from South Africa’s news media. China has been absent from the front pages of the newspapers in the last few days. It’s no better online.

IOL homepage: no mention of Xi’s visit or China, although if you dig around you can find a recycled piece of Reuters copy headlined China’s Xi in SA for minerals. TimesLive homepage: no mention of Xi’s visit or China, although if you dig around, you can find this story: Chinese company might bail out Aurora. As if to underscore how little the editors know or care about China, there is no contextualisation of this story with Xi Jinping’s visit to South Africa, or Zuma’s visit with a business delegation in August. News24 homepage: A small and hard-to-find link to a Reuters piece on Xi’s visit. M&G online homepage: no mention of China. The Daily Maverick: No mention of Xi’s visit, but if you look closer there is an article about US-China relations.

Kevin Bloom, who is apparently writing a book about China’s growing role in Africa, has even been silent on Xi’s visit. There does not seem to be a single South African journalist or editor who even cares. While a major, epoch-changing story develops, the South African media sleeps, or frets about the proposed media appeals tribunal or Julius Malema’s latest utterance.

Time for South African media to wake up and smell the tea. DM

Resources if you want to know more about China:

China pages at the Guardian, New York Times, CNN, NBC.

Specialist websites and blogs about China: Danwei (disclosure – my own website), Zona Europa, China Digital Times, China Smack.

Websites about China and Africa: African Boots (disclosure – I am a co-founder of this site), Young African Professionals and Students in China, ChinaZA (Community site for South Africans in China), South Africa China Business Association, Centre for Chinese Studies at University of Stellenbosch, China Africa Real Story  (blog by Deborah Brautigan, author of the Dragon’s Gift, a book on Chinese aid and economic engagement in Africa).

Xi Jinping: Wikipedia, Guardian, Forbes.


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