25 Years of Sino-South African Ties Celebrated

Gert Grobler
The long-standing fraternal relations and solidarity between the Communist Party of China and the African National Congress and other South African liberation movements culminated in 1997 with the signing in Pretoria of the Agreement on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between South Africa and China, with the provision for it to take effect on January 1, 1998.

The establishment of diplomatic relations ushered in a new era for South Africa-China cooperation. It paved the way for closer political, economic, cultural and people-to-people ties, in a spirit of increasing friendship and constructive dialogue.

The official establishment of diplomatic relations in 1998 was celebrated with a state visit of the highest symbolic significance by then South African president Nelson Mandela to China for discussions with then president Jiang Zemin on May 5, 1999.

During the visit, Mandela expressed the gratitude of the people of South Africa toward China for its firm support of the “people’s liberation struggle” against apartheid, which forged a strong sense of solidarity between South Africa and China.

These constructive developments culminated in the signing of the Pretoria Declaration on the Partnership Between China and South Africa in Pretoria on April 25, 2000, by Jiang and then South African president Thabo Mbeki. The declaration provided for the establishment of the high-level South Africa-China Bi-National Commission, an important mechanism for the promotion of bilateral relations.

Throughout the past 25 years, the two countries have deepened their wide-ranging bilateral relations.

The bilateral relations have since been elevated to a comprehensive strategic partnership and underpinned by the 10 Years Strategic Program on Cooperation between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of South Africa (2020-29).

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations 25 years ago, the cooperation has seen significant progress, from a partnership to a strategic partnership and then to the current comprehensive strategic partnership, with both countries advancing the bilateral relationship on the basis of a strategic and long-term perspective and increasingly regarding each other as strategic pivots in their respective foreign policies.

The Sino-South African comprehensive strategic partnership is defined by the three major characteristics of being strategic, multidimensional and mutually beneficial. It is underpinned by four important cooperation platforms — the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, BRICS, the Belt and Road Initiative and South-South cooperation — that have brought substantive benefits to both countries and peoples. The collaboration goes beyond bilateral relations to also include regional and multilateral cooperation to advance the agenda of the global south developing nations.

Bilateral trade between South Africa and China has grown exponentially over the years, increasing from less than $1.4 billion in 1998 to about $54.4 billion in 2021, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. China has also been South Africa’s largest trading partner for 13 consecutive years, and South Africa is China’s No 1 trading partner in Africa.

Under the guidance of President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Xi Jinping, the mutual political trust and respect between the two countries have been considerably deepened, with both sides fully committed to exploring further areas of collaboration for the mutual benefit, economic growth and prosperity of both nations. Particularly since the start of COVID-19, the two heads of state have maintained close communication through meetings, telephone calls and letters, providing strategic guidance for the promotion of bilateral relations.

On Nov 15, the two leaders held a constructive meeting during the G20 Summit in Bali in which they agreed to actively enhance cooperation and advance the development of the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries.

In a pre-recorded message last week, Ramaphosa congratulated China in the run-up to the new year and said, “As we recover and rebuild in the wake of COVID-19, it is our wish that the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and South Africa will lead to mutual economic growth, development and common prosperity — prosperity for ourselves, for our respective regions and for the rest of the world.”

In turn, Xi, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, sent a message on Dec 31 congratulating Ramaphosa on his re-election as president of the African National Congress party of South Africa.

The close fraternal relations and friendship between South Africa and China were also clearly reflected by the many messages sent by South African leaders to the CPC expressing condolences and solidarity, following the recent passing of former president Jiang.

Amid the challenges and uncertainties that the world is facing, South Africa and China are jointly striving to further consolidate and expand their friendship and cooperation and carry forward the two countries’ solid tradition of mutual support and assistance.

The author is a senior research fellow at the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University and a former senior diplomat in the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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