The close bilateral ties between China and South Africa were cemented with a firm handshake between the leaders of the two regional powerhouses – Presidents Xi Jinping and Cyril Ramaphosa – in Bali, Indonesia, this week.
After a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 meeting, both Beijing and Pretoria reaffirmed their stance in support of international cooperation and multilateralism.
The Bali meeting was the first in-person for President Xi, who has not been seen physically attending any international gathering since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic three years ago.
President Ramaphosa wasted little time congratulating his counterpart on his recent re-election as the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC). He also congratulated President Xi on the full success of the 20th CPC National Congress recently, and also on the “great achievements in China’s well-documented development in recent history”.
The UN has praised China for taking more than 800 million peasants out of poverty, thereby achieving part of key Millennium Goals 10 years ahead of the deadline time.
The two leaders were meeting at a time of fractious geopolitical relations that has been exacerbated by the ongoing Ukraine war started by Russia in February when Moscow embarked on a “special military operation”.
Earlier, President Xi had met with several other world leaders who were attending the G20 meeting. Among the leaders who met in a series of one-on-one meetings was US President Joe Biden, with whom top of the agenda was the One-China Policy “with Taiwan as a part” of China.
Relations between Beijing and Washington sank to their lowest in decades when the outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a delegation to Taiwan in spite of fierce opposition from China.
Also on the Biden-Xi agenda was the Ukraine war and Washington’s appeal to China to leverage the close ties with Russia to end the Ukraine war.
South Africa, a member of BRICS alongside Brazil, Russia, India and China, has steadfastly refused to join the US-led global sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine war.
China and South Africa play a leading role as developing economies in world politics. The two are also notable regional powerhouses with impeccable influence.
Their meeting attracted the attention of geopolitical observers amidst the conundrum that is the Ukraine war, which has drawn a visible schism between the Global South and Global North.
During their bilateral meeting, President Xi told President Ramaphosa that China has all along viewed its relations with South Africa from a strategic point of view, and stands ready to consolidate “political mutual trust and promote even greater development of the comprehensive strategic partnership with South Africa”.
The two leaders met under the umbrella of the China-South Africa Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which has seen greater cooperation in various fields including politics, economy, culture, education and sports, among others.
President Ramaphosa also thanked China for providing valuable assistance to SA and other African countries in fighting against the Covid-19 pandemic. Beijing was also thanked by President Ramaphosa for “helping African countries ease their debt crisis”, mainly against the Western lenders.
President Ramaphosa further assured President Xi of SA’s unwavering commitment to the One-China Principle, a foreign policy position first adopted by democratic SA’s founding father Nelson Mandela after the 1994 elections.
China is the world’s biggest developing economy, and is second only to the US, but is expected to snatch the world’s biggest economy top spot within the next decade judging by its continuous upward economic trajectory.
Speaking to the media after the bilateral discussions with his Chinese counterpart, President Ramaphosa said SA was ready and willing to learn from China’s experience in green development and energy transformation, “actively participate in Belt and Road cooperation, and open its doors to welcome Chinese enterprises to invest and conduct cooperation in SA”.
The close ties between SA and China and their membership of the emerging power bloc that is BRICS positions both Presidents Xi and Ramaphosa as important players in geopolitics and potential peace brokers in conflict situations such as Ukraine.
South Africa is scheduled to assume the presidency of BRICS next year and China’s support as well as the cooperation of other members bode well for unity at various international fora, including at the UN.
Beijing and Pretoria’s special bilateral relations are expected to continue to grow, particularly as the two leaders are frequently communicating via telephone and exchange of letters.
In the past, President Ramaphosa has emphasised that SA views China as a very important strategic partner in global affairs and also a dynamic bilateral ally. The close similarities between the foreign policies of Beijing and Pretoria and their strong opposition to a unipolar world order make them genuine allies in the constantly changing geopolitics of our times. The Bali meeting proves the point.