Agreements signed on Zuma’s state visit to China cement co-operation and will bolster investment and growth, writes Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
President Jacob Zuma’s state visit to the People’s Republic of China, at the invitation of President Xi Jinping, earlier this month was significant as it coincided with the end of the year.
Designated by both leaders as the 2014 Year of South Africa in China, it provided a unique opportunity to showcase South Africa’s economic, political and cultural achievements.
It also gave a higher profile to the exploring of business and development opportunities.
Next year it will be South Africa’s turn to host the 2015 Year of China in South Africa.
The main goal of the visit was to lift our bilateral relations with China, focusing on the priority of development in South Africa as outlined in the National Development Plan.
Although diplomatic relations between South Africa and China were established only 16 years ago, in January 1998, the bonds of friendship and solidarity between the Chinese and South African people go much further back in history.
The ANC, which turned 102 years old this year, is the same age as the Communist Party of China and established political ties with it many decades ago.
The Communist Party of China and the Chinese government have been staunch supporters of the liberation movements in South Africa and elsewhere on the African continent against oppressive, racist colonial regimes.
The collapse of apartheid in 1994 and the accession to power by a democratically elected government paved the way for South Africa’s re-incorporation into the world economy and opened a new chapter in the relations between China and South Africa.
Since 1998, South Africa and China’s diplomatic relations have witnessed phenomenal growth.
The evolution of the relationship between our two countries has gone through three stages: a partnership in the year 2000, then a strategic partnership in 2004 and finally a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2010.
Today, the two countries share a sound political relationship, which can be used better to lay the basis for implementing South Africa’s economic objectives and further enhance its economic relations with China so as to take advantage of new trade and investment opportunities in rapidly growing emerging markets.
The state visit afforded Zuma’s high-level government and business delegation the opportunity to discuss South Africa’s socio-economic priorities with the Chinese government and business sector.
These discussions led to enhanced co-operation and the signing of a number of agreements. In this regard, our two governments adopted the China-South Africa Five- to Ten-Year Framework on Co-operation with the objective of furthering and entrenching the implementation of agreements since the conclusion of the Beijing Declaration in 2010.
Agreements signed on this visit were, among other goals, to improve economic co-operation in trade, investment and agriculture.
In terms of these agreements, Beijing has decided to expedite market access negotiations for the export of South African fresh produce to China, for example maize and apples.
We also concluded agreements or memorandums of understanding on collaboration in human resource and capacity development, which involves supporting South Africa’s industrial plans to improve the beneficiation and value addition with respect to raw materials.
China has agreed to increase short-term skills development programmes in a bid to reduce the skills gap that we are experiencing in South Africa.
China will gradually increase training opportunities for South Africa and will provide training for 2 000 South Africans from 2015 to 2020.
China has also committed to supporting South Africa’s industrialisation agenda by agreeing to assist in the development of a science and technology and industrial park and in other key areas such as the ocean economy.
As part of the industrialisation process, China agreed to South Africa’s request to assist in the creation of black industrialists, who would participate in the mainstream of the economy.
With regard to infrastructure development, China has committed to support the establishment of railway parks in South Africa, which are linked to the localisation of railway carriage manufacturing processes to facilitate inward buying missions into South Africa starting early next year.
During the discussions, an agreement was reached on supporting tourism promotion activities conducted by South Africa and China to increase investment in the tourism industry and facilitate growth in tourism.
Our two countries will continue to work together to further the south-south co-operation objectives and tackle global challenges within the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) bloc and on the multilateral front.
Consequently, Zuma and his Chinese counterpart discussed the high-level Forum for China-Africa Co-operation (Focac) meeting that is to be hosted in South Africa and co-chaired by the two countries next year.
Focac is an important engine of growth and development on the African continent.
South Africa sees China as a key partner in the implementation of some of the large-scale infrastructure and other development plans on the continent.
China also regards South Africa as a key partner in advancing its relations with other African countries.
The two delegations also discussed the establishment in South Africa of the African regional centre for the Brics New Development Bank in tandem with its headquarters in Shanghai.
Since 2009 China has become South Africa’s single largest trading partner and South Africa has become China’s largest trading partner in Africa.
According to the Department of Trade and Industry, trade between South Africa and China has experienced an upward trajectory since 2008, growing from R121 billion to R271bn by the end of last year.
With regard to investment, 11 South African companies are investing in China, with a capital expenditure of R51.8bn between January 2003 and September this year, in a range of sectors, such as consumer products, industrial machinery, minerals, business services and chemicals.
Thirty-nine Chinese companies have invested in South Africa, with capital expenditure of R14.7bn between January 2003 and September this year.
Chinese investments are mainly in the automotive, metals, building and construction sectors.
China is also considering investing in the processing of agricultural products.
While the two countries are strikingly different in their cultural, political and socio-economic orientation, they are close in the positions they take on issues affecting mankind.
Both countries appreciate the importance of strengthening co-operation on the basis of respect for each other’s core values and interests.
The strategic partnership between South Africa and China is durable and meaningful and will continue to provide a long-lasting partnership for development and progress.