Speech By Minister Nkoana-Mashabane At The Heads Of Mission Conference For The Asia And Middle East Region, New Delhi, India, 13 November 2009

Director-General – Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba
High Commissioner Francis Moloi – Host of this Conference
High Commissioners and Ambassadors of the Asia and the Middle East Region
Senior Government Officials
Programme Director
Ladies and Gentlemen

We last met at our Heads of Mission Conference in August in Sandton where we reviewed the fifteen years of our foreign policy since our freedom in 1994 and reflected on the alignment of our work to the vision that President Jacob Zuma has outlined for our country for the next five years.

We shared views, among others, on the current global economic crisis, the importance of rural development to the current Administration, and how we intend to coordinate planning within government and the monitoring and evaluation of our work. 

We also came to a common understanding that the change of the name of our Department to DIRCO was intended to emphasize the linkage between our domestic priorities and our foreign policy, and that our work in the world should promote partnerships instead of competition and encourage the involvement of non-state actors in the pursuit of our foreign policy objectives.

This two-day meeting of Heads of Mission of the Asia and Middle East Region should build on the deliberations and outcomes of our Conference in Sandton.  We will have an opportunity over the next two days to assess our work in this Region.  But more importantly, this assessment must be forward looking.  We will have to use our achievements and lessons in this Region to identify areas for improvement and how we can best position our country for the attainment of our vision for a better life for all in our country, Africa and the world.  At the end of tomorrow, each one of us must be able say: “I have learnt something new. This where and how I will improve my work”. The load of work before us is for giants and I believe that each one of us in this room is such a giant.

I am greatly honoured to be part of this team of giants – this team of our Ambassadors and High Commissioners who have made the sacrifice of leaving their country to serve in this Region but who also hold the proud honour of being representatives of their country abroad.

I must also recognise the team here in India who have worked hard to host this meeting. The theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein, once proclaimed: “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made!"

India is also known by many as the place of peace. One Indian philosopher, Swami Vivekanand, once stated that:
"Here [in India] activity prevailed when even Greece did not exist... Even earlier, when history has no record, and tradition dares not peer into the gloom of that intense past, even from until now, ideas after ideas have marched out from her, but every word has been spoken with a blessing behind it and peace before it. We, of all nations of the world, have never been a conquering race, and that blessing is on our head, and therefore we live...!"


Our diplomatic presence in this part of the world is a function of the importance we attach to bilateral and multilateral engagement with countries of Asia and the Middle East as part of the South-South Cooperation arm of our foreign policy.

Our partnership with countries of the South is critical to advancing the African Agenda.  Enhanced South-South Cooperation is central to addressing challenges facing Africa. We also share a common interest with countries of the South of addressing challenges of underdevelopment as well as the economic and political marginalisation of our part of the world in the global system, including the need for the reform of the United Nations and the Bretton Woods Institutions.

We have a common interest in ridding our countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa of the devastating effects of neo-colonialism. In his 1965 book: “Neo-Colonialism: the Last Stage of Capitalism”, Kwame Krumah reminded us that:
“The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which being subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.”

South-South Cooperation is also key to our foreign policy objective of increasing market access for our goods, promoting overall trade and investment benefits for our country, and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

We have firmly focused our attention on the promotion of South-South Cooperation as an important dimension for developing and strengthening interdependence among developing countries and exchanging technical, financial and institutional knowledge in support of finding solutions to development challenges.  South-South Cooperation complements our work in promoting North-South Cooperation.

Therefore, with South-South Cooperation (to quote from the late Oliver Tambo) “we all have identified a community of interests and aspirations and declared a coincidence of purpose.


Our relations with Asia and the Middle East have shown profound development, with strong growth trends on all fronts, particularly in terms of the establishment and deepening of friendly political, economic and social relations. In 1994 there were only a handful of South African Missions in Asia and the Middle East, today there are 32 with three more in the process of being opened.

Over the period 2004-2007, South African exports to Asia and the Middle East have grown by 92% to R160 billion.  However, the trade deficit with Asia and the Middle East also increased by 94% over the same period.

Tourism from Asia and the Middle East also showed a significant increase of 22% between 2004 and 2007, with the total number of arrivals in 2007 from the Region amounting to nearly 375 000.

But geopolitical factors are not the only consideration driving our involvement in this Region.  People-to-people factors are as important.  Many of our citizens trace their historical roots to Asia (particularly India and Malaysia); many South Africans are of Muslim and Hindu faith; Australia and New Zealand are home to thousands of our nationals.  Our people love cricket and rugby like multitudes in this Region.  And countries such as India, China, Vietnam and Indonesia – have had a profound influence on the struggle for freedom in our own country.


We should take counsel from the words of wisdom attributed to biblical Solomon thatshe who gathers crops in the summer is a wise daughter, but she who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful daughter.We should position our country for the harvesting season because Asia and the Middle East are set to play a dominant geopolitical role in the near future.   We must intensify our work in this Region with this factor in mind.

The gap between Asia and Middle East, on the one hand, and traditional super powers, on the other, is closing at a fast rate. We have seen a global economic shift from developed countries in the North-West region to those of the South-East Asian region – that is: China, Japan, India, Indonesia, and the so-called Asian Tigers. This emerging trend is also posing a long-term threat to the geopolitical dominance of the United States as the world's only superpower.  This trend is a serious subject of inquiry among a number of policy think-tanks in the North.  For instance, a study entitled Global Powers in the 21st Century suggests that China, Japan, Russia, India, and the European Union are becoming major players in the post 9/11 global space.

This analysis is not unfounded at all.  In comparison to the United States of America, the European Union and the rest of the world, Asia's share of the world GDP is rising, thanks to the region’s economic dynamism. The region's economy, having fully recovered from the 1997–98 financial crises, is now the fastest growing economy in the world, contributing close to 50 percent of world growth. Asia has also integrated into global capital markets, capturing about 40 percent of net private capital flows going into emerging markets. Two-thirds of private equity flowing into the region is in the form of foreign direct investment. In the years ahead, the region is expected to account for a rising share of the world economy, thanks in large part to the fast-growing economies of India and China.

Asian countries with access to capital and strong balance sheets can deploy their cash muscle quickly to seize opportunities in global markets. For example, China's nickel company, the Jilin Jien Nickel Industry - rated second in the world - has offered to buy mining developer Canadian Royalties Incorporated for nearly C$200 million to help feed its appetite for metals. South Korea, for its part, aims to pump 300,000 barrels of oil a day by 2012 as it expands its manufacturing economy. The country is currently the world's fifth-largest oil importer. The number of corporate deals in the resources sector is set to increase as China, Korea and other Asian nations seek to own the production of resources such as nickel and oil instead of having to buy them on international markets.

The Gulf region remains a major potential source for Foreign Direct Investment. Currently Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait have among the largest Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs) in the world. Currently SWF’s in the Gulf Cooperation Council region are worth US$ 1,200 billion.

The population of this region is another important factor. Asia is the number one most populous region in the world with about four billion people compared to Africa with its one billion people. A study by the Euromonitor International suggests that the higher youth populations in areas such as the Asia Pacific, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America will translate into a larger working population in the long term. A large youth population in emerging economies represents a significant economic resource since a young working population can drive economic growth and offset the social costs of an ageing population like it is the case in developed countries of the North. Countries with particularly high youth populations include India, China, Brazil and Pakistan.

However, one threat to the youth in our countries becoming a resource for the future is the scourge of HIV and AIDS.  In our case, our Minister of Health revealed two days ago that the number of deaths from HIV  and AIDS had doubled from 300 000 in 1997 to 756 000, while the birth rate dropped from 1,5 million to 1,2 million; and that the HIV pandemic was the main contributor to the child mortality rate in our country.


We have made tremendous progress in our relations with Asia and the Middle East on all fronts – economically, politically and socially.  We will be discussing various aspects of this progress in detail in the course of today and tomorrow.  All what I can do for now is to highlight some of the issues as well as what I consider to be some of our challenges moving forward.

The thrust of our bilateral and multilateral engagement with countries of this Region is in the following areas, namely:

  1. Building strong political ties, especially with those countries that espouse our values and share our vision of a better world;
  2. Learning and the sharing of experience in nation-building, the transformation of the state, tackling development challenges, and building a competitive economy;
  3. Strengthening people-to-people ties particularly in the areas of sports, culture and religion;
  4. Economic cooperation, including promoting trade and investment to the benefit of our country;
  5. Protecting our national interest as an oil-importing country;
  6. Branding and promoting the image of South Africa through our Public Diplomacy campaign in particular;
  7. Encouraging tourism to our country;
  8. Technical cooperation to promote exchanges in science and technology, among others;
  9. Promoting cooperation in a manner and areas that will help alleviate the problem of skills shortage in our country;
  10. Cooperation to combat transnational crime;
  11. Attracting development assistance from the Gulf States as well as countries such as Japan, China, India and South Korea to support Government’s priority areas (that is: education, health, rural development, creating descent jobs, and combating crime);
  12. Promoting the objectives and work of the South African Development Partnership Agency (when it is finally established), including mobilising resources for trilateral projects on our continent;
  13. Promoting the African Agenda;
  14. Promoting South-South cooperation as a pillar of our foreign policy;
  15. Strengthening our solidarity with the people of Palestine and East Timor; and
  16. Building tactical and strategic alliances for the transformation of the international system, including that of key multilateral organisations.

Our relations with Asia and the Middle East allows for a bigger and more influential platform for the advancement of the African Agenda.  We have just concluded the fourth Ministerial meeting of the China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Sharm el Sheik, in Egypt, where China announced eight new measures for its partnership with our continent.   FOCAC creates a platform for partnership with China in areas such as infrastructure, agriculture and food security, and technical cooperation.  I am hopeful that our meeting will discuss the outcomes of the FOCAC Fourth Ministerial and its implications for our relations with China and the broader objectives of our foreign policy.

Our trilateral cooperation with India and Brazil within the framework of the IBSA is as important to the objectives of the African Agenda.  We need to continue to engage our IBSA partners, India in the context of this meeting, to ensure that the existence of the BRIC strengthens our resolve to make the IBSA a success.  We have to give life, and urgently so, to the twenty trilateral Government-to-Government Memoranda of Understanding/Agreements/ Action Plans that have been signed within the IBSA since 2005. 

The establishment of the Africa-India partnership in April 2008 is another important development that this meeting should reflect on. The implementation of the Africa-India Framework for Cooperation is our collective responsibility.

The conclusion of negotiations for the establishment of the SACU-India Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) is also a challenge we should continue to pursue.   We should also consider taking the lead in exploring ways to strengthen ties between the SADC and ASEAN since the two organisations are regional counterparts.

We have also been active in the New Asian African Strategic Partnership (NAASP) and the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC).  The NAASP was intended to be a vehicle to enable the countries of Africa and Asia to cooperate for their mutual benefit with the view of promoting peace, prosperity and progress on the two continents. Through NAASP, both continents are looking at ways to complement each other’s strengths, mitigate each other’s weaknesses and to develop workable political and socio-economic programmes and initiatives that can be implemented in both regions.  Achievements of the IOR-ARC include Construction Conclave held in Malaysia during August 2008; Fisheries Support Unit; Maritime Transport Council; IOR-ARC Regional Centre for Science and Technology in Teheran; and the Indian Ocean Studies Centre in Mauritius.

But are we realising the full potential of these two bodies – the NAASP and the IOR-ARC; and what should be South Africa’s role?  This, I believe, is a question for this meeting to ponder.


The adoption of the Goldstone Report recently by the United Nations General Assembly (with our full support) has given a new dimension to the Middle East Peace Process.  The Israeli-Arab conflict is one of the major issues enjoying world attention.It impacts on relations between, especially the Arab States and Western countries, given the latter’s perceived support for Israel.  The pprincipal international objective of the Middle East Process is establishment of a viable Palestinian State, existing side by side, in peace, with Israel within secure and internationally recognised borders according to international agreements.

We will continue our role in support of the Middle East Peace Process informed by the following principles:

  • The inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and independence, which entails a principled position against the military occupation of the Palestinian people and their land; 
  • A belief that there can be no military solution to the conflict and that peaceful negotiation is the only means of ensuring lasting peace, security and stability; and 
  • A commitment to multilateralism in order to secure a sustainable solution and a rules-based international order.

Our role in this regard include the sharing of our negotiating experience; enhancing Palestinian Government capacity and supporting capacity building and institution building efforts in Palestine;  humanitarian assistance; and facilitating inter Palestinian Dialogue.

We are hopeful that Israel and relevant Palestinian authorities will act on the recommendations of the Goldstone Report as per the UN General Assembly resolution, including launching appropriate independent investigations into the alleged crimes committed, in conformity with international standards.

The issue of nuclear proliferation remains a major challenge for our foreign policy in this Region.  The matter of countries pursuing a nuclear programme outside the NPT is a serious concern to all of us.  North Korea poses a proliferation challenge in a way that Iran still is not.  Iran’s nuclear programme that its Government informs us that it is for civilian purposes has IAEA monitoring and oversight.  However, Iran should understand that there is a level of confidence deficit when it comes to their nuclear programme and therefore they will need to do more to gain the confidence of the world through, among others, the active and transparent cooperation with the IAEA.  South Africa will continue to encourage all countries, through our bilateral and multilateral engagements, to follow our example and do away with nuclear weapons.


As we move forward, I need to emphasise the point I raised at the Heads of Mission Conference about coordination of our international engagements throughout the three spheres of our Government.  I am concerned that our provinces and municipalities back home continue to venture into uncoordinated, unstructured and often superficial engagements with this Region, especially the Gulf States, and this poses a major problem for our Missions.   We have been working on the enhanced coordination of our international engagements.  One of the considerations in this regard is the need for an inter-governmental co-ordination structure, comprising senior officials from all three spheres of government and other relevant stakeholders that will meet at least twice annually to ensure proper information sharing and co-ordination. The objective of this structure will be:

    • Information Sharing: sharing of information regarding all stakeholders’ international involvements, including policy statements, visits abroad, conferences, summits, and in-coming visits;
    • Foreign Policy guidance on international issues;
    • Planning and co-ordinating of international visits, incoming and outgoing;
    • Discussion of pressing issues to enable Government to convey information in a consistent and principled manner on key Foreign Policy issues to various levels of government; and
    • Possible private  sector/ civil society engagement and national outreach programmes;


In 2010 South Africa and Japan will celebrate a centenary of official relations and this opportunity should be utilised to further strengthen our bilateral relations. South Africa will also participate in the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, which will be attended by an anticipated 70 million visitors.

In the context of the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup, Missions are encouraged to work with the Marketing division at Head Office in order to advance their preparations for marketing the event. By now Missions should have started putting up marketing material on the event.

In this regard, I wish to stress the call by President Zuma that we should domesticate our foreign policy. At Head Office, we are currently implementing an Outreach Programmes in order to answer this call. We held two Public Lectures at the University of Limpopo and at Rhodes University as well as an Imbizo at the Mankweng Community Hall in Limpopo Province. I also had a meeting with foreign policy Think-Tanks recently.

My point here is to illustrate that we need to start strengthening our Public Diplomacy outputs, bearing in mind that Public Diplomacy is not only about media liaison.

Last week at the Departmental Annual Conference we were told by some participants that:

 “It is not so much that South Africa makes wrong decisions in multilateral organisations, but that South Africa fails to explain the decisions in the public arena causing the media to have a great feast in bashing our decisions.”

Furthermore, we were told that:

 “The great strength of the West and the North is in their ability to promote effective public diplomacy.”

We are a country with potential in a world filled with opportunities. Therefore, fellow Colleagues, let us not take lightly the task we have been given by the people of South Africa; let us hold steadfast to the saying by Hendry Ford that:

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

I thank you!

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