Lecture by Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Westin Hotel, Beijing, China, 26 February 2010

Programme Director – Prof Zhang Hongming
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

I want to thank our hosts for the warm reception they extended to me and the entire South African delegation since our arrival in China. We converge here today as South Africans alongside our Chinese friends in the spirit of mutual co-existence and a common agenda that speaks to improving the lives of our peoples.

We are here on an Official Visit in this beautiful country which is home to one of humanity’s oldest civilisations, to intensify the flourishing bilateral relations between China and South Africa and expand the strong bond of friendship between our peoples.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to engage with yourselves this morning on South-South cooperation within the context of bilateral relations between South Africa and China in the current global context.

The rise of countries of the South has begun, the momentum is intensifying, and indeed we marvel at our collective recognition, growing influence and improving geopolitical standing in international affairs.

We also feel privileged to be received in this country at the time when the Chinese people are concluding their celebration of the Spring Festival to enter the Year of the Tiger.

Programme Director

The relations between South Africa and China were not purchased over a counter; nor are they a product of a blind date.  Our relations are a product of a long history of dynamic contact between the people of China and those on the Africa continent.   

The Chinese mariner, Zheng He, visited parts of East Africa in the 15th century – some fifty years before Christopher Columbus could set his foot on what later became known as the Americas.  Unlike Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic, China’s contact with our continent did not result in the enslavement of any of our people, the extermination of indigenous populations, plunder of our wealth, or the colonial conquest of our land.    We should cherish this history because it has resonance with and significance for the nature of Sino-Africa relations today and into the future.

China and Africa were both subjected to colonial aggression, and have over the past half a century been fighting for our right to self determination, self-reliance, and a prominent role in global affairs. 

Indeed, last year October, the people of China celebrated that moment sixty years ago when they rose up in their heroic Revolution to take charge of their destiny and lay the basis for the path of pragmatism whose results we are witnessing today.

About two weeks ago, South Africans, for their part, also celebrated the release of Nelson Mandela from prison where he was incarcerated for almost thirty years for his beliefs that inspired the anti-apartheid movement globally.

Programme Director

China’s humble pragmatism has given effect to Deng Xiaoping’s foresight that “It doesn't matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice” and that we should “Keep a cool head and maintain a low profile. Never take the lead - but aim to do something big”.

This pragmatism has made China the great country it is today.  It has helped this country succeed where others have failed.

The growing importance of China in the world economy and geopolitics should be leveraged by developing countries not only to strengthen South-South cooperation but also to address the unequal distribution of power in the international system.

South-South cooperation has been a weapon in the hands of developing countries since the historic Bandung Conference of 1955 and the formation of the Non Aligned Movement in 1961, to promote interdependence and cooperation among countries of the South and fight for a world free of injustice, poverty and inequality.   

The countries of the South are defined not merely by their location in the southern hemisphere of the globe.  They also share a common history of struggle against slavery, colonialism, and neo-colonialism.   They are in the periphery, whose centre is comprised of those who benefited from the fruits of Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic – those who wield power in our international system.

Fifty years of cooperation among countries of the South made it possible for my country, South Africa, to achieve its freedom in 1994.  It is also thanks to this cooperation that countries of the South, especially those in Asia (including China), are now big players in global trade and the flow of investments internationally.

We can (in many respects) pat ourselves on our shoulders that we have been successful in the implementation of the South-South agenda for technical cooperation that is contained in the United Nations Buenos Aires Plan of Action which was adopted about thirty years ago (in 1978).    

You will recall, Programme Director, that the strategic aim of this Plan of Action was to strengthen the economic, social and political interdependence among countries of the South; accelerate their socio-economic development; and correct distortions in the international system, which are due to the asymmetrical power relations that we have inherited from the colonial era.

Moving forward, Programme Director, we have to bear in mind challenges outlined by the United Nations Secretary General in his report of last October for the UN High-Level Conference on South-South Cooperation, which met in Nairobi, Kenya, in December last year.   This report noted (among others) that:

  1. Many developing countries continue to suffer from serious socioeconomic deficits, and some are not [even] on track to achieve the minimum goals set by the Millennium Summit of the General Assembly;

  2. That a growing number of developing countries with pivotal roles in South-South cooperation are becoming middle-income economies and the largest of them are gaining a voice in global governance; and that

  3. Regional integration has fuelled economic progress, leading to further expansion of South-South flows of finance, technology and trade.

This is a big achievement, but many of our countries will still struggle to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  I remain hopeful, however, that South-South cooperation, as delegates at the Nairobi conference agreed, is a “partnership among equals, based on solidarity”.  It will continue to transform power relations in the international system and mobilise the collective determination of our respective countries to create a better life for our people.

China’s relations with Africa in general and South Africa in particular, should draw lessons from the wealth of experience of these many decades of successful South-South cooperation.

Africa has, for its part, been working hard to make the underdevelopment of our continent history.  Although we are not blind as Africans to structural constraints imposed on us by our colonial heritage and neo-colonial reality, we have also recognised that there are steps that we can take on our own to better the plight of our people and put our continent on the path towards its renewal. 

When we transformed the Organisation of African Unity (the OAU) into the African Union in 2002, we wanted to bring into being a continental organisation that is better placed to tackle challenges of the 21st century.   The OAU’s primary mission was to rid our continent of colonialism, and this we achieved with South Africa’s freedom in 1994. 

Now, the future of our continent lies in eradicating conflicts that take precious human life, damage our infrastructure, and drain our limited resources.   We have since established the Peace and Security Council of the African Union to take direct charge of this challenge.  This Council is supported by a continental Peace and Security Architecture, which includes an Early Warning System, the Panel of the Wise, and a Standby Force for intervention in conflict areas.

South Africa has just been elected for another tenure on the AU Peace and Security Council, and this we see as an opportunity for our country to continue to discharge its Pan-African obligations.

In this regard, the position of the African Union on the Sudan is sometimes misunderstood.  We do not support impunity, but we believe that the imperatives of justice must always be balanced against the need for peace and stability in that country.  We had requested the UN Security Council to invoke relevant provisions of the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court, to defer the indictment of President El Bashir in order to give enough space to our peace-making initiatives in that country.  We were disappointed by the response to this request.  Sudanese must still go to elections in April this year; and a Referendum is till to decide the future of Southern Sudan next year.  What the Sudanese need from the international community is our support for a speedy resolution of the situation in Darfur, a free and fair election, and an incident-free Referendum.

We have also realised – and we are in this case encouraged by the experience of countries such as China – that we can find a way out of underdevelopment as the African continent if we put correct policies in place and take bold steps in certain critical areas.  In this regard, we see the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) as an important platform from which to build strong and working linkages among our countries to promote connectivity and intra-Africa trade – among others.  NEPAD is a good example of what can be achieved when countries of our continent work together in areas of food security, infrastructure development, the protection of our environment, education and human resource development, water and energy security, and for collaboration in the health sector. 

We are grateful to our partners such as China, who have not hesitated to see NEPAD as an opportunity for them to work with us for the realisation of the goals we have set for ourselves – but we believe more can still be done.  I therefore wish to make a call to our Chinese counterparts to invest their energies and resources to work with us towards the accelerated implementation of the NEPAD agenda, particularly in achieving regional integration through the Regional Economic Communities.

NEPAD is, indeed, our framework for the international community to work with us in accordance with, among others, the Monterrey Consensus of the International Conference on Financing for Development, and the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.  These declarations are in line with our recognition of the principle of country ownership and leadership in our work with our international partners.  Our Chinese partners agree with us that conditionalities in development assistance run contrary to this principle and do not help in making the partnership work for our people.

We also treasure political stability in our respective countries.  We have been working hard to promote systems of governance that encourage popular participation, as opposed to social and political exclusion.  The African Peer Review Mechanism (the APRM) which we developed as a programme of the NEPAD provides a framework for our countries to work together, collectively, to promote among ourselves people-centred development and democratic systems of political, economic and social governance.  Countries that are members of the APRM monitor and peer-review each other to enhance each other’s work in the areas of political and economic governance, socio-economic development, and corporate governance.

The establishment of the Regional Economic Communities (the RECs), such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Economic Community of West African States, and the East African Community - has strengthened the ability of countries of our continent to engage in collective action at sub-regional level. The African Union recognises eight of these RECs.  Each of these RECs has its own secretariat, meets at various levels including the Summit, and has programmes targeted at challenges specific to their respective sub-region.

These Regional Economic Communities also play a key role in the resolution of regional conflicts through their respective mechanisms for conflict resolution and mediation.

We foresee a future where Africa will be one political and economic space with some sort of Union Government.  There is no doubt about this. South Africa and others believe that we should build this continental unity gradually on strong Regional Economic Communities and effective organs and programmes of the African Union.  We believe that our priority in the immediate and medium term future should be to get the RECs to work to the desired level and make sure that the African Union (and its various organs) discharges its mandate effectively, as stipulated in our founding documents.

Programme Director

These positive developments towards the renewal of our continent have made it possible for us to take a firm stance – like we did at the last Summit of the African Union – against the resurgence of incidents of unconstitutional change of government on our continent.  We have not forgotten the horrors of military coups that contributed to the stifling of the development of our continent between the late 1960s and the 1980s.

We believe that the end of the Cold War has placed us in a better position to ensure that the normal competition for political office among the political leadership does not degenerate into wars, rebel attacks, or even military takeover of power.  Today we say No to unconstitutional change of government – and a firm No!  It is for this reason that President Jacob Zuma did not hesitate in joining other leaders on our continent to condemn the coup that took place recently in Niger.  South Africa is also working with the SADC to send out a strong message against those who came to power unconstitutionally in Madagascar.

The foreign policy of South Africa moves from the premise that our future as a country, is inextricably linked to that of Africa - and that we cannot prosper in isolation from our sister countries particularly in our neighbourhood. We believe and hold dear to the view that the political and economic integration of Africa will continue to be the motive force that drives the consolidation of the African Agenda.

South Africa is committed to promoting regional economic integration; hence it prioritizes its involvement in the programmes and activities of the SADC.  South Africa, together with its regional partners, is engaged in a process that seeks to find ways and means of strengthening the SADC - in terms of its capacity to implement its socio-economic programmes. South Africa will amongst others, continue to contribute towards sustainable regional integration and infrastructure development in SADC, as well as assessing the future of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) within the broader integration process.

SADC rests on three pillars, namely: restoring, strengthening and maintaining political unity and collaboration; deepening regional integration; and expediting regional infrastructural development. Our view is that important progress has been made in terms of trade integration in the SADC region. The most serious constraint to balanced regional trade remains, however, is the undeveloped production structures in the region. The challenge is for the region’s industrial policies to expand the range of products that can be exported and to increase the value added of those exports.

Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen

Formal diplomatic relations between South Africa and China were established in January 1998 and ever since the relationship has strengthened into what we can describe as an excellent partnership between our two countries today.

This relationship was further enhanced through the South Africa-China Binational Commission (BNC), established in 2002, which is a mechanism for intensifying cooperation between the two countries in the areas which complement South Africa’s national priorities as outlined by President Zuma during his State of the Nation Address in 2009.

As you might be aware, President Zuma’s administration has prioritized, amongst others, the creation of decent work and sustainable livelihoods as well as rural development and land reform. We are determined to ensure that we create opportunities for decent work and sustainable livelihoods. I am convinced that South Africa and China can share their lessons and exchange views on how to tackle this mammoth challenge.

The total trade between China and South Africa has increased by about 34 percent between 2006 and 2008.  Provisional statistics up to the end of July 2009 indicate that China is now South Africa’s largest export and import market. However, while the trade balance is in favour of China, it is also clear from the pattern of trade that China is exporting mostly finished products to South Africa, whilst South Africa is exporting mostly raw materials to China.  This is a challenge that our two countries should continue to work on. 

In this regard, I am happy that during our bilateral interaction with our Chinese partners, we agreed on the need to elevate our relationship to a comprehensive strategic level in order to take full advantage of the potential of our partnership.  We look forward to concluding this agreement during President’s Zuma’s State Visit later this year.

South Africa’s investment in China, Programme Director, is valued at about one billion US Dollars, and for its part, China has set up more than 80 companies in South Africa with an estimated investment value of almost six billion US Dollars.

South Africa has committed itself to strengthening and broadening our mutually dependable and reinforcing relations with China. In the spirit of our strategic partnership, I also want to encourage more joint ventures between South African and Chinese companies.  Good examples in this regard include the joint venture between the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Standard Bank, and that between China Construction Bank and First Rand.  This partnership and private sector joint ventures should be expanded to include other African countries.

There is still room for escalating our bilateral cooperation in the economic domain particularly on market access, mineral beneficiation and infrastructure development.

Our good bilateral relations with China are complimented by the flourishing Sino-Africa partnership within the framework of the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (the FOCAC).

The FOCAC enters its first decade of existence this year.  The FOCAC is a mechanism for collective dialogue and mutual cooperation between Africa and China, concentrating on issues of economic and social development.

Our presence here today seeks to confirm that FOCAC presents and provides both China and Africa with an important opportunity to strike a mutually beneficial strategic partnership that seeks to deepen both economic and political relations, including building of relations that are premised on the values of equality and mutual trust. China and Africa have embraced a partnership that should ensure a win-win situation between itself and our continent.

The 4th Ministerial Conference of the FOCAC held last year in Sharm el- Sheikh, Egypt, adopted an Action Plan for 2010-2012 that should help China and Africa build on the experience and lessons of the last ten years of this exemplary partnership.   

We believe that the multilateral aspects of the FOCAC should be strengthened so that FOCAC can work more closely with the African Union, NEPAD and the RECs on, among others, cross-border, multi-country projects for regional integration.

The FOCAC, as a good example of a working South-South cooperation initiative, compliments equally important partnerships that Africa has with other parts of the South – notably India, Asia and South America.

South Africa remains committed to strengthening and advancing the principles of South-South cooperation through our active participation not only in the FOCAC, but also in forums such as the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA), the New Africa-Asia Strategic Partnership (NAASP), and the Indian Ocean Rim Association of Regional Cooperation.

We also believe that this cooperation among countries of the South has been a key factor in our struggle for the transformation of the international system, including the reform of the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions.  The G77 – as a forum for South-South cooperation in the UN system – has since its formation in 1964 actively asserted the interests of the South in global governance and international negotiations.  It is thanks to this body that, for example, the right to development is at the centre of the work of the United Nations.

But the struggle for the transformation of the international system is far from over.  The negotiations around the expansion of the UN Security Council are yet to deliver expected results, and more challenges still await us in concluding negotiations around a development-oriented global trade regime, climate change, the review of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and the implementation of the MDGs.   We will have to close ranks on these issues as countries of the South (as has hitherto been the case).

China, as the only country of the South with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, has an important contribution to make to consolidate the gains we have made thus far.  Our country – South Africa – has been endorsed by the African Union as a candidate for tenure in the Security Council as a non-permanent member during the period 2011-12. 

Also, South Africa remains convinced that the Brazil-Russia-India and China Dialogue (BRIC) can be critical in the establishment of a new Global Economic Order. It is also our conviction that the BRIC will seek to secure our greater voice and representation in international financial institutions, including the necessary reforms that countries of the South have always been calling for.

In the context of the G20, South Africa is of the firm view that the international system has already benefited from the elevation of the G-20 to summit level. The G20’s broad membership, with representation from both the developed and developing world, creates the basis for a genuinely global forum. It is our view that the G20 leaders should continue to coordinate an integrated and coherent global response and play an important role in maintaining future financial stability, including providing much needed leadership in the reform of the regulation and supervision of the global financial architecture.

Important as South-South cooperation may be, we must still work with our partners of the North for a better world.  As some would put it: “South-South cooperation is not a substitute for, but rather a complement to, North-South cooperation”.

Programme Director

About ten years ago, on the 6th of May 1999, former President Nelson Mandela stood before the staff and students of Beijing University and said (I quote):

Today a new Asia is emerging. Africa is renewing herself. As they do so, a new relationship between Africa and Asia must take shape. For that to happen, the new world order will have to emerge to promote equity; to safeguard peace; and to reflect the democratic norms of our age in the decision-making structures of world bodies. In particular the threat of Africa’s marginalization must be removed.

(Close quote)

What President Mandela said is as true today as it was ten years ago.  In particular, China has emerged as a major player in the world and is set to continue its dominant role in the future. 

China is critical to addressing the current global economic crisis as the world’s fastest growing economy over the past 30 years.  It recently passed the USA and then Germany to be the world’s number one exporter.  It has also the world’s largest foreign reserves and largest sovereign investment fund.

This emerging dominance of China has prompted some to begin to talk of the “Post-Post-Cold War” era or the “Post-American World” that is before us.  This new world order - that the American think-tank that produced a study called Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World  predict - will be characterised by the geopolitical dominance of Asia and the relative decline of the West as a centre in the international system.  This new world order will signal the end of the global system that Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic has produced over the past five hundred years.

This is a new world order to look forward to.  But the configuration of the South will also change.  It may even cease to exist – at least as part of the southern hemisphere of our world.  This will place us in a much better position as the international community to bury (once and for all) the legacy of Columbus.  But this will also pose a challenge to countries like China which will be part of the centre in the international system of the future.

I am confident that China will continue to play its role to further the interests of the whole of humanity as part of countries of the South.  As South Africa we are optimistic that a better world is upon us.

I am even more confident about the future in this Year of the Tiger – the year that the ancient Chinese believed keeps away fire, thieves and ghosts!  The year that keeps away the unwanted tragedies of humanity.

I thank you!

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