Address by President J G Zuma to the South Africa – China Business Forum on the occasion of the State Visit to the People’s Republic of China, Beijing, China, 24 August 2010

Honourable Ministers, Chairpersons of the South Africa-China Business Forum,
Excellencies Ambassadors of South Africa and China,
President of Business Unity South Africa,
Distinguished Captains of Industry and Commerce,
Ladies and gentlemen,

We are delighted to be visiting our friends in the People’s Republic of China for a crucial State Visit. 

We look forward to fruitful discussions with His Excellency President HU Jintao, and his delegation, when we begin our official bilateral programme later this afternoon.

The talks will surely take the relations between the two countries to greater heights. 

I would like to thank the government and people of China for the warm reception accorded to my delegation and I, since our arrival.

This is the kind of hospitality and comradeship we have become accustomed to, each time we visit this country, which is a historical friend of the South African people.

When friends were fewer, during the struggle against apartheid, China was available to assist, and we are grateful for that solidarity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Some of you may be surprised to hear that trade relations between China and Africa in general and South Africa in particular, dates back more than a thousand years.

We know from historical records that the kingdom of Mapungubwe in Limpopo province, in the northern part of South Africa already had commercial links with China that far back.

We should also recall that the famous Chinese mariner, explorer, diplomat and fleet admiral, Zheng was sent by the Ming Emperor, Yongle, on expeditions to explore the “Western Oceans” in the early fifteenth century. He opened up trade routes as far south as Mozambique.

At that time China was the largest economy in the world, a position it held until the early 19th Century.

It was also during this period that Africa and China forged strong economic ties.

Historians record that these ancient relations were based on mutual respect and understanding, territorial integrity, similar values, solidarity and friendship.

However, colonialism interrupted these mutually beneficial relations.
The rise of China indicates that the world is now returning to its historical economic powers and trade patterns!

Our visit is therefore a natural progression, building on relations that date back so many thousands of years ago between China and Africa.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,

Personally, I am pleased to be back in China so soon. My last visit to this country was in 2008 as President of the ruling party. It was a memorable and most successful visit.

Only a few weeks ago, a second group of members of the national executive committee of the South African ruling party was in China on a study tour.

The visits are an implementation of one of the decisions taken during our 2008 visit.

We had agreed then with comrades in the Communist Party of China that we had a lot to learn from each other, especially at political and economic levels.

We are encouraged by the swift implementation of the decisions of that visit.

It augurs well for our relations too, that we have moved quickly to enhance cooperation at the highest level of the two governments, as evidenced by this State Visit.

We sincerely thank the government of China for this gracious invitation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are particularly happy to kick-start this visit by meeting with members of the South Africa-China Business Council.

This forum is a crucial mechanism of interaction by our respective business communities.

Let me point out from the onset that for South Africa, the expansion of foreign trade is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end, which is to improve the quality of life of all South Africans.

The quest for beneficial international trade relations is aimed at helping us to achieve the necessary economic growth to enable us to achieve our developmental objectives.

We have to ensure an environment in which decent work is created for, and by our people. We have to improve the quality of education and health care.

We need resources to be able to develop our rural areas, expand our infrastructure network such as roads, bridges, public transport, electricity and water supplies, and enable us to build more secure and thriving communities.

China is one of our key strategic partners in the achievement of these goals.

To boost our economic interaction with China, I have brought with me more than three hundred and fifty businesspeople, representing both big and small businesses.

This is the biggest business delegation we have ever taken anywhere since the fourth ANC administration came into office.

The size of the delegation illustrates the expectations of the South African business community from this relationship between the two countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You will agree with me that this State Visit has come at a most opportune moment. Last week, China became the second largest economy in the world.

This country is reaping the benefits of three decades of reform, the opening up of its economy, as well as hard work, and investment in education.
 
South Africa is also steadily moving in the right direction with regards to economic performance.

We compare well with our peers in the world. According to the World Bank Investment Climate Assessment, South Africa is ranked third among its peers, preceded by Thailand and Malaysia respectively, followed by Chile and Mexico in the fourth and fifth positions.

This success story of South Africa, since the demise of apartheid in 1994, must also be seen against the positive political and economic developments in Africa in the beginning of the 21st century.

The negative perceptions about Africa are finally disappearing.

It is estimated that in 2008, Africa’s collective GDP was one point six trillion dollars. It is expected to reach two point six trillion dollars in 2020.

Africa’s phenomenal economic growth is not only driven by the global demand for its commodities.

The key driver is also Africa’s new consumer industries such as retail, telecommunications, financial services as well as infrastructure and agriculture.

Only three months ago, the prestigious McKinsey Global Institute issued a very positive report on Africa’s growth prospects entitled: “Lions on the Move: The Progress and Potential of African Economies”.

In Asia, they have their Asian Tigers; similarly in Africa we have our African Lions.

The prospects for Africa were further boosted by the huge marketing success of the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup tournament held on African soil for the first time.

The tournament proved South Africa’s capability and expertise in project management of a massive scale.

The smooth logistical arrangements as well as security, telecommunications, communications and infrastructure prowess, has proven that South Africa can deliver on its undertakings, and that its economic management prowess cannot be doubted.

The World Cup tournament has also contributed immensely to crushing the stereotypes and prejudice that have followed the African continent for many years.

Nobody can now tell us that Africa is a hopeless continent which is not capable of any outstanding achievements.

Our message today, co-Chairpersons, is that China is indeed a key strategic partner for South Africa, and that South Africa is open for business in a big way!

China has become a major investor in key sectors of our economy, such as mining and financial services.

We envisage meaningful future co-operation in infrastructure, the beneficiation of minerals, engineering, energy, information and communications technology and electronics.

There are also opportunities to be explored in manufacturing, especially in the automotive, agro-processing and textile areas, the promotion of a green economy, agriculture, infrastructure and skills development.

We must also stress that the development of South Africa cannot be divorced from that of the African continent.

In this regard, we wish to express our appreciation to China for the engagement with Africa, in the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. 

We would like to propose a more pronounced emphasis on infrastructure development as a focus of the Forum, as it will be a catalyst for faster economic growth and development in Africa.

The 23rd Session of the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee of the African Union resolved that South Africa would chair the Committee’s High-Level Sub-Committee on Infrastructure development on the continent.

South Africa offered to champion the inter-regional road and rail North-South Corridor.  This is one initiative that China could explore, in addition to other opportunities within the NEPAD framework.

We must also explore more extensive collaboration between Africa and Asia. Fifty-four Asian and fifty-two African countries are members of the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership, comprehensively bridging both continents.

This grouping provides a unique vehicle for South-South co-operation on sustainable development.

Its revitalization is a strategic focus for both South Africa and Indonesia, who have been appointed Co-Chairs until the next Summit next year.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Honoured guests,

At a global level, South Africa and China are both members of the G20 forum. This provides an opportunity to take forward the needs of the developing world, in Asia and Africa. 

The two countries also share the ambitions to open up more markets for the developing world, especially for agricultural products.

South Africa wants to see an international trade system that is more transparent and inclusive, and which is not hostile to the interests of the developing world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me reiterate our optimism about the success of this visit.

Let me also remind you that good and enduring relations between States are built on sound economic relations.

Governments can create favourable conditions for the conduct of good trade relations, and help to eradicate any obstacles in the way of balanced trade.

However, it is the responsibility of the business sector to make the wheels of trade to turn, and to keep them properly oiled.

We leave you with that message and responsibility.

And remember, South Africa is open for business!

I thank you.


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