Budget Vote Speech by the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Mr Ebrahim I Ebrahim, to the National Assembly, Cape Town, 30 May 2013
Honourable Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane;
Ministers and Deputy Ministers present;
Honourable Deputy Minister Marius Fransman;
The Chairperson and Members of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation;
Honourable Members of Parliament;
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors, and High Commissioners;
Representatives of International Organisations;
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our foreign policy of Ubuntu expresses the desire for others to also have what we want for ourselves. South Africa’s foreign policy, like that of any other state, is a projection of our domestic imperatives. Through our foreign policy, we project South Africa’s vast opportunities as an investment destination of choice, as a world-class tourist destination, and as an exporter of quality goods and services.
Indeed, this is what we do on a daily basis through all our Missions abroad, through our high-level visits, diplomatic interactions and the various channels of mass communication. A recent study released by Brand SA affirms that South Africa ranks very favourably, especially with regard to financial infrastructure, competitiveness, governance and human development in comparison to global and emerging market competitors. These findings were compiled from data sourced from the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Economic Forum and the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, among others.
It is in our national interest that we continue to champion the promotion of human rights in our country, Africa and the world.
The major hallmarks of our human rights agenda are most visible in the conduct of our foreign policy strategies, particularly, in our efforts to strengthening the African Agenda. Our involvement in peacekeeping missions in Africa finds expression in our key foreign policy strategy on Africa. We are inspired by the belief that the promotion of human rights is essential for development and prosperity of any nation in the world.
It is not surprising that South Africa is increasingly called upon to share its experiences and to play an active role in mediating between conflicting parties, in assisting with post-conflict reconstruction and development efforts by those countries emerging from conflict, and to assist others in developing their own mechanisms for reconciliation and nation-building.
We have demonstrated our commitment to continue monitoring the ongoing political transitional processes in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. We have offered our assistance and experiences to the transitional governments and political role players in these countries, particularly in the drafting of their respective constitutions and in the reconciliation process.
We must also emphasise that, for Libya in particular, we have made an undertaking to share our experience with the formation of a National Defence Force as well as the establishment of an institution similar to our Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We will be firming up this commitment in the near future.
We have been actively involved with the Government of Sri Lanka. Our approach has also taken into account the important role of civil society, non-governmental organisations and other relevant stakeholders. The idea behind our involvement is to help the people of Sri Lanka in dealing with the aftermath of the civil war that took place in 2009. I have personally visited Sri Lanka to engage at various forums, mainly about our own experiences. Similarly, I also had an opportunity to engage with a number of delegations visiting our shores from Sri Lanka on the same issues. We will continue our efforts to share the message of hope and peace with the people and the Government of Sri Lanka.
Such countries are constantly reminded of the importance of strengthening economic ties, which in turn ensures that the transition to peace is accompanied by visible and growing prosperity among all sectors of society.
Our message is therefore consistent throughout – the importance of establishing inclusive dialogue, the importance of justice, democracy, the rule of law and a legitimate Constitution as a basis for peaceful co-existence.
As the Minister has already indicated, Asia remains a strategic continent for South Africa, and our political and economic relations continue to strengthen.
The importance of some of the countries notably China, Japan, India and South Korea as foreign direct investors in our country could not be overemphasised. The region’s importance for South Africa is underscored by the fact that Asia is the fastest-growing region in the world, followed by Africa. Although trade between South Africa and these countries is growing, the skewed trade in their favour requires sharp focus.
The South African Government will continue to strengthen its engagements with all its key partners, including Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Another important structure that defines our milestones is the South Africa-China Strategic Dialogue. This is an important platform where we engage on issues of common interest and mutual benefit. At its fifth session, which took place in November 2012, the establishment of the Joint Working Group on South Africa-China Cooperation featured prominently. It was also during this session that the Chinese Government offered a total of 200 scholarships to the Government of South Africa. We must take advantage of this opportunity.
Our relations with Japan remain solid. We continue to enjoy cordial bilateral relations with this part of Asia, through our Strategic Cooperation Partnership. In March this year, I had an opportunity to co-chair the 12th South-Africa-Japan Partnership Forum meeting, which was an important milestone in the evolution of our bilateral relations, focussing on the official development assistance from Japan to South Africa, and the upcoming Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V).
Our relations with South Korea are sound, particularly in the fields of trade, information and communications technology and water management.
Our engagements with Central Asia, specifically, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are gaining momentum. Towards the end of this year, we expect to welcome President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan in South Africa. We are looking forward to a stimulating dialogue on issues of common interest.
We are also making economic strides in neighbouring Uzbekistan. SASOL has established a permanent presence in this country, and will partner with the Uzbek Government in the production of liquid fuel from gas.
The deteriorating military and humanitarian situation in Syria and the resultant number of fatalities, internally displaced people and refugees continues to increase. South Africa has condemned the ongoing violence perpetrated both by the Government of Syria and the atrocities committed by rebel and sectarian groups. South Africa is convinced that there can be no military solution to the crisis and urges all parties to immediately put an end to the violence, to start engaging in dialogue, and reach an agreement on a political transition based on the Geneva Communiqué of June 2012.
The granting of Observer Status to Palestine by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly last November was a significant turning point in the struggle for Palestinian statehood. We again urge all parties in the Palestine/Israeli conflict to enter into genuine negotiation, to create an independent Palestinian State, based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Likewise, we continue to support the right to self-determination of the Saharawi people.
The Republic of Iraq remains an important country for South Africa. We are guided by our shared common history of a struggle for independence and self- determination. We have already welcomed and hosted the Minister of Trade of the Republic of Iraq to our shores in November 2012, and an agreement on economic and technical cooperation between the two countries was signed.
Although the Islamic Republic of Iran finds itself in a difficult position internationally, our government is of the view that we should continue to maintain good relations with this country. At the invitation of Dr Hossein Abdollahian, Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister for African and Arab Affairs, I paid a visit to Iran in April 2013. One of the objectives of my visit was to encourage his government to take the necessary steps to seek consensus with the UN and its agencies on its nuclear programme.
India, Brazil, South Africa (IBSA) and Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) are both strategic platforms, which allow for South-South politico-economic cooperation to strengthen and counteract the global balance of forces.
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Moving closer to the prospects that the Indian Ocean Rim holds for our development, it must be emphasised that this formation has attracted the quest for influence and hegemony in the geo-strategic context, driven by global competition for natural resources and market share. A clear strategy to engage this formation is therefore necessary for our own economic development.
In the immediate neighbourhood, these include countries such as India, which is projected to rank third-largest in the global economy by 2050.
The need to leverage this agglomeration of key economic anchor countries is in congruence with South Africa’s domestic priorities, namely economic growth, job creation and skills development, as well as the regional and continental integration agendas.
Clearly, South Africa’s foreign policy continues to evolve and respond to the dynamics of the ever-changing global politics.
We will therefore continue to work effectively to advance our national interests through our foreign policy engagements.
I thank you.