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Opinionista

SA has a great deal to learn and adapt from China’s sterling economic development

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Dr Mtheza Mtyopo is the head of the Content and Technical Task Team at the South African BRICS Business Council.

A two-week seminar on trade and investment, promoting South African businesses in China, shows SA has some way to go in promoting itself and taking full advantage of opportunities that lead to economic growth.

I have just returned from a trade and investment seminar promoting South African businesses in China, as part of a group invited by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. The seminar was held at the Academy for International Business Officials in Beijing.

Suffice it to say, South Africa must start ensuring we always put our best foot forward, or no one will take us seriously. 

Lectures at the seminar covered topics like the governance of China; reforms, regulatory environment, economics and social development across nations, as well as opportunities and challenges. 

We also had excursions to key institutions in Beijing and Xiamen, including the rural area of Zhuba. This is where one felt the visit to learn about agricultural technologies could have been more beneficial to the men and women who work the land in the rural areas of our country. A discussion for another day.

Reforms and economic collaborations

The key takeaways for a developing country like South Africa included reforms and economic collaborations; how the Chinese managed to eradicate poverty in 2021 with a population of 1.4 billion people, and how their state-owned enterprises sustain themselves without any recapitalisation from the government.

China still considers itself as developing — with some of the key economic indicators well above what developed countries have managed to achieve. 

Perhaps the question is, what has led to this success in China? 

China’s remarkable economic transformation over the past few decades can be attributed to its commitment to reform and meritocracy. The reforms started in 1978 with the establishment of the Free Trade Zone to promote investment. They also established eight policies and measurements for promoting exports.

Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping coined the phrase: “It does not matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it can catch the mice”. This simply means that as long as the economy works, it is a good economy. South Africa can benefit from such a pragmatic approach. 

By removing bureaucracy and optimising processes, including reducing red tape, promoting merit-based appointments, and creating an enabling environment that rewards talent and hard work, a culture of innovation would not only attract skilled individuals to the public sector but also drive a culture of efficiency and productivity.

Belt and Road

One of President Xi Jinping’s legacies is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It has been argued that the BRI has been the game-changer in global infrastructure development, linking nations and driving economic partnership.  

We have seen several successful BRI projects such as the China-Europe Railway Express, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Laos-China Railway. 

South Africa can draw inspiration from China’s success in implementing large-scale infrastructure projects. 

From the lessons learnt through the BRI, South Africa can attract foreign investment, improve connectivity within the country and enhance regional integration. 

This can be done by enhancing our port operations to drive efficiency, reviving corridor routes through the railways and highways, unlocking new trade routes, boosting economic growth and creating employment opportunities.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Transnet’s critical operation and financial situation extends from bad to worse

The Chinese government has actively pursued bilateral investment treaties (BITs) to protect and promote its investments abroad. 

One of the key principles in China is the enhancement of the culture of soft power; this simply means that bad news does not drive self-confidence and speaking badly about your own country does not drive or promote investment. 

South Africa can learn from China’s approach and leverage its own BITs to attract foreign direct investment. We can do this by ensuring a stable and enabling investment environment and encouraging local and foreign investors to contribute to the country’s economic development agenda. 

Energy

When we visited the TBEA Group in Beijing, a company that develops clean energy solutions for the global energy industry, my heart sank and I wondered whether we were the first group to visit the institution from South Africa, as surely some of the key lessons to ensure a greater and stable energy supply for our country can be achieved and replicated by working with and learning from the TBEA Group.  

South Africa can improve its infrastructure development and attract much-needed investment. However, it is crucial to adapt lessons from China to South Africa’s unique characteristics, ensuring that they align with the country’s values (some would argue that those don’t even exist), priorities, policies and long-term vision. 

Throughout the seminar, the Chinese continued to preach a common shared future for all humanity, which suggested their availability to assist South Africa. 

With a pragmatic implementation of the policies developed, and partnering with like-minded countries like China, South Africa can pave the way for a better and sustainable future for all. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Definitely learn from merit-based appointments, investment in infrastructure and commitment to a shared vision for a prosperous country – but sugar coating the diabolical government we have won’t work given that anybody serious about investment simply read the news, let alone hire advisors.

  • Martin Smith says:

    China has massive debt problems with bank failures, property market collapse and local authorities forced into bankruptcy by central authority intent on offloading debt; on top of that many of its Belt and Road customers are unable to make the loan repayments China needs to try and bail out its municipalities with… It has failed to empower its own massive internal market, relying still on foreign economies which are themselves imploding, leaving millions of its own citizens outside of the major cities as desperately poor as ever. Replacing the US as the world’s economic powerhouse is looking less and less likely.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Meritocracy – an interesting concept, alien to the ANC, but a central pillar, according to the writer, of China’s success story.

    “It does not matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice”.

    • dexter m says:

      He seems to missed the majority of Chinese politicians have a engineering degree. Most of our politicians at best have a social science degree . All talk no action .

  • Darryl Accone says:

    Funny, isn’t it, that the China property crash, its high & rising unemployment, and disillusioned middle classes don’t get a nod in this encomium.

  • Mark K says:

    Since we’re quoting dead Chinese leaders, Mtheza, let’s quote another:

    “You go everywhere to follow the big news, but the questions you ask are too simple — sometimes naive.” – Jiang Zemin

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The Chinese Communist Party is in the Constitution of China and there is no civil society allowed to contest the plans of the Communist Party of China or any opposition party that would take issues to courts. The person is just saying nonsense and has a lot of things he needs to learn about differences between South Africa and China. The President in South Africa is not an autocrat where his word and that of his party is law unfortunately for the fellow. There is nothing therefore that we can learn from China given its political and social system. The author has a lot to learn with regard to political and social systems and their impact on economic decision making. How such drivel reaches publication without proper questions being asked from the author boggles the mind. There is no conflation of the party and the state in South Africa despite attempts by the ANC to do so. The developmental trajectory of China has not been studied by the author and he requires a lot of education on it.

    • Pet Bug says:

      Thank you. You raised the concerns I have with this opinion piece.

      Really disappointing from someone with a doctorate where one would expected an interrogation of the experience the author of the article had in China.

      It could’ve been an interesting contribution, but he succumbed to the (underhand) balm offered by a free trip. With dollops of propaganda.
      His academic training should’ve alerted him to this age-old schmooze.
      And should’ve made him much more curious.
      Very disappointing.

      • Stephen Paul says:

        Yes I have to agree. There is little to admire about Chinas economic system, their stranglehold on the press and free expression. The belt and road initiative is a resource extraction exercise where there is no real hope of the host country repaying their debts. I think that this is an intentional soft-power move by china reducing these countries to a serfdom where they lose autonomy. Its feudalism on an international scale.

  • dexter m says:

    SA has to cherry pick from both China and US , and incorporate what worked in both and avoid the missteps both have made. US policies of the “New Deal” is a place to start and China their initial industrial policy.

  • Jim F. says:

    Man, this guy drank the Chinese Koolaid. Eradicated poverty? 1 billion people earn less than USD300.00 per month.

  • Wayne Gabb says:

    Start by treating corruption in the same manner as the Chinese Communist Party !

  • Colin Braude says:

    Three things SA can learn from China:
    1. “The colour of the cat does not matter as long as it catches the mice”
    2. Confucian work ethic
    3. Death for corrupt officials

  • Andre Swart says:

    … blah … blah … blah …!

    Rubbish!

    Why doesn’t Dr Mtheza Mtyopo mention the following:

    1. Death penalty for corrupt officials.

    2. One child per woman policy for 25 years.

    Dr Mtheza Mtyopo is a ‘spindoctor’ for the ANC and should be treated accordingly!

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