A glittering celebration as China welcomes New Year

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The evolution of societies is premised on the passage of time, and intervals of history as well differing time zones. As South Africa and most of the world enters a third week since the dawn of 2023 on January 1, it isn’t the case with spme parts of the world.

At a glittering ceremony in Pretoria this week, the Chinese embassy in South Africa hosted a huge New Year’s celebration party attended by a large crowd of diplomats, big business, academics, the members of the indigenous Chinese community in SA and dozens of other strategic partners.

Among those who attended the New Year’s celebration was former President Kgalema Motlanthe and his wife Gugu. Also in attendance were ministers of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu and Maite Nkoana-Mashabane of the Presidency-based Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Lunar New Year’s message to the People’s Republic of China was prominently displayed on stage in the huge arena and was read by China’s ambassador to SA, Chen Xiaodong.

The official Chinese New Year’s date is 21 January. It was celebrated a few days earlier for logistical reasons.

According to Amb Chen, “it is the most important traditional festival for the Chinese people” at home and in the Diaspora.

He said: “Everything starts afresh at the beginning of the new year. This year also marks the beginning of China’s new journey to build a modern socialist country as well as the 25th anniversary of China-South Africa relations.”

Amb Chen told the gathering that 2022 was regarded as “the year of the Tiger”, and 2023 is recognised as “the year of the Rabbit”. He explained: “The Chinese New Year is a time of celebration, joy, blessing and hope. In the Chinese culture, the rabbit symbolizes kindness, beauty and peace.”

China and SA have strong bilateral diplomatic relations since the first democratic administration led by Nelson Mandela adopted a One China Policy during the immediate aftermath of apartheid in the 1990’s.

The Presidency statement released to the media read: “President Ramaphosa has, on behalf of the Government and people of South Africa, expressed his wish that the advent of the Year of the Rabbit will indeed endow citizens of the People’s Republic of China with the longevity, peace and prosperity associated with the zodiac sign for the year ahead.”

The statement continued: “South Africa values the vibrant economic relations and political cooperation that characterise its partnership with the People’s Republic of China. As we enter the New Year, we are also celebrating the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of SA and the People’s Republic of China in 1998.”

President Ramaphosa also highlighted the fact that SA is set to succeed China as Chair and host of the next BRICS Summit, “during which we hope to receive His Excellency, President Xi Jinping in SA. These occasions provide ample cause for celebration,” President Ramaphosa said.

This year SA taken over as BRICS Chair and will host a series of important meetings that include the BRICS Summit.

Amb Chen said the 2022 “was a year of solidarity and cooperation between China and SA”.

He elaborated: “In 2022, our two Heads of State spoke and exchanged letters and messages 10 times. They together attended BRICS events and had a great meeting during the G20 Bali Summit.” Among the letters exchanged was President Ramaphosa writing to his Chinese counterpart to congratulate him on the successful 20th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress and his re-election as the leader of the ruling party.

President Xi recently reciprocated the gesture, writing to congratulate President Ramaphosa on the successful ANC’s 55th National Conference and his re-election as President of the ruling party.

On the economic, China has been SA’s largest trading partner in the continent for 13 years in a row. Last year alone, trade volume between Pretoria and Beijing reached 56.7 billion US dollars, up by 5% year-on-year.

“China,” said Amb Chen, “is ready to work with SA to implement the important consensus between our two Heads of State, further enhance mutual trust, deepen pragmatic cooperation, increase mutual support, promote people-to-people links, and jointly safeguard multilateralism and international justice.”