China-South Africa relations have steadily progressed at the bilateral level and beyond, since official relations were established in 1998 – and have been further upgraded to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership since 2010.
Indeed the upcoming state visit highlights the extent relations have evolved since Zuma’s 2010 state visit.
China has remained South Africa’s largest trading partner, with trade jumping 32% between 2012 and 2013. Investment is also slowly diversifying, raising hopes of moving beyond a focus on the resource sector to areas that could generate local employment. However, South Africa, as a diversified economy with relatively strong institutional frameworks and a vocal civil society – and China’s increased engagement on the continent – means there are not only areas of convergence but contention as well.
Watch a short video above with SAIIA’s Professor Chris Alden on the SABC, about the current nature of the relationship between the two countries, and what the future is likely to hold.
South Africa is currently the co-chair (2010-2018) of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), a tri-annual ministerial meeting that highlights areas of cooperation and growth in China-Africa relations. Moreover South Africa will host the sixth FOCAC in 2015, inviting high-level Chinese and African representation.
Furthermore, both countries share platforms on the multilateral level. For instance, both are members of the BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) grouping that has recently launched the BRICS New Development Bank. While its particular mandate remains unclear, South Africa is said to host the Africa Regional Centre while China will house the banks’ headquarters in Shanghai.
As links between South Africa and China evolve and deepen, so too will the areas of competition and collaboration. Both countries show willingness to address challenges in the relationship, including the trade deficit that remains in favour of China, the emphasis on beneficiation in China’s investment into South Africa and bridging the gap between state engagement and public perceptions. Both sides are actively reaching out to their respective publics through the launch of a series of cultural events called ‘The South Africa Year in China’ in 2014 and ‘The China Year in South Africa’ in 2015.
It would appear there is no better time or context for both countries to fully realise the potential of bilateral relations.
For more information on China-South Africa relations visit the following links:
- South Africa-China Relations: Evolving Cooperation, Collaboration and Competition, opinion, October 2014
- South Africa and China: building bridges to beneficiation, opinion, October 2014
- Political and economic relations between South Africa and China, video, October 2014
- South Africa and China: The Making of a Partnership, Occasional Paper, August 2014
- China-South Africa: Unpacking a Strategic Partnership, conference, November 2012
- FOCAC’s Present and its South African Future, opinion, July 2012
- South Africa-China Relations: Getting Beyond the Cross-roads? opinion, September 2010