Home » Xi’s Footsteps in South Africa Bring Tangible, Symbolic Gifts That Deepen China-Africa Relationship

Xi’s Footsteps in South Africa Bring Tangible, Symbolic Gifts That Deepen China-Africa Relationship

Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded his state visit to South Africa and his attendance at the 15th BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, with a resounding call for BRICS nations and the Global South to unite in building a more equitable world order. This call is expected to exert far-reaching influence and is widely supported by the international community.

During the summit, President Xi emphasized the importance of collaboration and solidarity among emerging economies, signaling a shift in global power dynamics and a renewed commitment to creating a fairer and more balanced international system. 

“We choose our development paths independently, jointly defend our right to development, and march in tandem toward modernization,” Xi said while addressing the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg. This represents the direction of the advancement of human society, and will profoundly impact the development process of the world, he said.

The 15th BRICS Summit is the first in-person summit held post-pandemic, and the third held in Africa. The summit has drawn much attention since the lead-up months to its opening. 

Several experts reached by the Global Times in Johannesburg hailed that Xi’s trip to South Africa not only further deepens the friendship between China and Africa, but also injects new impetus and vitality to global peace and development, especially when the world is increasingly divided as certain countries continue to pursue unilateralism. 

At this year’s summit, a historic expansion was announced, which involves Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, and their membership will take effect from January 1, 2024.

Argentina’s Ambassador to China Sabino Vaca Narvaja told the Global Times in an exclusive interview that he wants to especially express gratitude to China and other BRICS member states for their support. 

“The strengthening of the BRICS is essential for the development of the countries of the Global South. I believe that this mechanism represents countries that have the same problems and the same needs, which is why it will be easier to work together to strengthen our development. Expanding this mechanism is the key to building a more harmonious global order where cooperation replaces confrontation,” Narvaja told the Global Times.

After expansion, the proportion of the land area of BRICS countries to the world’s total will increase from 26 percent to 32 percent, its combined population from 42 percent to 47 percent, its economic aggregate from 26 percent to 29 percent, and its total trade in goods from 18 percent to 21 percent.

Chinese and South African national flags fly outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, on August 22, 2023. Photo: Weng Qiyu

Enhanced China-Africa ties

President Xi arrived in Johannesburg on the night of August 21 to attend the 15th BRICS Summit, and pay a state visit to South Africa.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, together with South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor, and Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth, and Persons with Disabilities, warmly greeted Xi at the OR Tambo International Airport of Johannesburg.

On the morning of August 22, the air of the Union Buildings square in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital was filled with fluttering national flags, representing China and South Africa. President Xi arrived at the Union Buildings in a presidential motorcade, and was warmly greeted by President Ramaphosa. As the two heads of state stepped onto the stand, a guard of honor saluted with rifles. The military band also played the national anthems of China and South Africa, and a 21-gun salute was fired.

President Ramaphosa noted that it was a great pleasure to receive President Xi on his fourth state visit to South Africa. China lent precious support to South Africa during its struggles for national independence and liberation and in its pursuit of national development. China gave South Africa much-needed support in difficult times such as during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

China is a true friend, brother, and partner of South Africa. Both South Africa and China are pursuing national development and prosperity, and hold the same or similar positions on a number of major international affairs, Ramaphosa said. 

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and South Africa.

During Xi’s visit, the two heads of state jointly witnessed the signing of 11 cooperation documents on Belt and Road Initiative, new energy power, agricultural product, a special economic zone, an industrial park, a blue economy, scientific and technological innovation, and higher education.

The Global Times learned that the programs are much-needed in South Africa, especially in new energy power as South Africa faces a serious electricity shortage. 

In Johannesburg, the Global Times reporters saw Chinese brands like Huawei and Gree have become incredibly prevalent. The local population has developed a strong preference for Chinese appliances, smartphones, and automobiles.

The economic relationship between South Africa and China is flourishing, with China currently being South Africa’s largest trading partner on a global scale. Similarly, South Africa holds the prestigious position of being China’s primary trading partner in Africa. Recent data from China’s Ministry of Commerce reveals that bilateral trade between the two countries reached a remarkable $56.74 billion in 2022, showcasing a 5 percent year-on-year increase and reaching its highest point in eight years. This positive growth trend has continued to gain momentum in the first half of this year, with an additional 11.7 percent increase.

Professor Paul Tembe, senior lecturer at the University of South Africa, told the Global Times that every time President Xi visits South Africa, he brings not only tangible gifts, but also important intangible, symbolic gifts that expand the China-Africa relationship.

Tembe noted that the values that China advocates are widely shared by African people as what China has done is not for selfish interests, but for the survival of humankind.

“For example, the Global Civilization Initiative stresses that each and every nation in the world has its own specific civilization that could contribute to its development and the survival of mankind,” he said. 

David Monyae, director of the Center for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg, told the Global Times that under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Africa has benefited a lot from China’s programs and investment.

“We see China playing a critical role as it has adopted a new approach to deal with Africa differently from the West… China prioritizes the beneficiation needs of developing countries,” said Monyae.

When the Global Times talked to locals, they also expressed the desire to further enhance ties with China and eyed cooperation with China in a number of areas especially in energy, technology, and agriculture. 

The theme of this year’s BRICS summit is “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism.” This is of great significance for synergizing BRICS cooperation with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the process for the adoption of the Agreement Establishing African Continental Free Trade Area. 

Thabo Trevor Mohlotsane, a journalist at the South Africa Radio Voice of Wits, told the Global Times that he believed that the African and BRICS economies are going to grow for the better in the future.

Fairer global order construction

BRICS nations have upheld fairness and justice in international affairs, stood up for what is right on major international and regional issues, and enhanced the voice and influence of emerging markets and developing countries, Xi said while addressing the summit. 

“BRICS nations do not barter away principles, succumb to external pressure, or act as vassals of others,” he said, adding that they share extensive consensus and common goals.

He highlighted the BRICS expansion as historic. The expansion demonstrates the commitment of BRICS countries to cooperate in unity with all developing countries.

When announcing the expansion during the summit, President Ramaphosa said that BRICS has begun a new chapter in its efforts to bring about a world that is fair, inclusive and prosperous.  

“We have consensus on the first phase of this expansion process and other phases will follow,” he said. 

In 2022, the BRICS started the expansion process during China’s chairmanship. China has since been working with other BRICS members to steadily advance the expansion process. 

“Many emerging markets and developing countries have given positive considerations to joining the BRICS and more than 20 countries have submitted their applications, which speaks volumes about the appeal and influence of the BRICS and the enthusiasm and aspirations of emerging markets and developing countries for cooperation,” Special Envoy on BRICS Affairs and Director-General of the Department of International Economic Affairs of the Foreign Ministry Li Kexin said at a media briefing on August 24, 2023.

Analysts have observed that this expansion underscores the resolve of BRICS nations to collaborate with other developing economies, which advances the shared interests of emerging markets and developing nations.

The expansion is also believed to be a new starting point for BRICS cooperation, which will enhance the momentum for global peace and development.

Experts noted that the expansion of the BRICS will greatly leverage the organization’s status in global governance. As the G7, led by the US, tries to “resurrect” itself, it’s important for global governance to include more voices from emerging markets which have long been neglected.  

The inclusion of Saudi Arabia and the UAE highlights their drift away from the US’ orbit and an ambition to become global heavyweights in their own right, read a Reuters report. 

A report by the South China Morning Post pointed out that “a more united Global South will also be more forceful in pushing back against US pressure to fall in line with American foreign policy priorities.”

An expanded bloc, along with the potential use of a common currency in trading among BRICS countries, will help in countering US unilateralism, read the SCMP report.

Monyae emphasized the necessity of the expansion of the BRICS. “I believe that developing countries aspire to strengthen their voices in determining how to manage their own economies and address climate change issues. They seek to establish a powerful presence, advocating for an equitable global order,” he said.

Ethiopian scholar Balew Demissie Kebede said that the concept of “BRICS Plus” implies a big family, with a sense of solidarity, trust, and support among member countries. 

“It can be seen as a strategic step toward promoting a multipolar world order, enabling BRICS countries to strengthen their presence on the world stage and advocate for their common interests in a more cohesive and coordinated manner,” he said.

Source : Global Times