Opening Remarks by Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane during the official meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi
Excellency, it is indeed a great honour and privilege to welcome you to Cape Town, popularly known as the Mother City, our legislative Capital. I hope you enjoyed your brief visit to Pretoria, that you are well-rested and that you have had time to see something of the city before our meeting. We are particularly proud of Table Mountain which, since you visited last time, has been designated as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Excellency, I would like to start by thanking you for cutting short your New Year holidays to travel all this distance to South Africa. I hope you still had some time with your family before coming to South Africa and wish you all the best for the year of the Snake (or “little dragon”). Dju nee, shin nyenkwai le!. (I wish you a happy new year).
Our meeting today takes place within the context of a year full of celebration and important events. Just two weeks ago I was honoured to be the Guest of Honour at the function at the Chinese Embassy where we celebrated the 15th year of having formal diplomatic relations. It was but the first of several events to come this year. As we do an overview of our bilateral relations this afternoon, also with a view to the State Visit, we will be able to report considerable areas of progress and opportunities. Firstly, we are celebrating the 15 years of our countries’ relationship. Secondly, your President’s State Visit will be among the first he will be undertaking to Africa since assuming Office. We view this visit as further manifestation of the ever closer relations between Africa and China. Thirdly, our assessment this afternoon of progress with regard to the BRICS summit will be further proof of the close working relationship we have developed. It also applies to our membership of organisations that share similar views on sustainable development and the protection of our own interests as we expand our global responsibilities.
One of the most important issues on our agenda is the Terms of Reference for the Joint Inter-Ministerial Working Group on China-South Africa Cooperation, which will be ready for signature during your President’s visit. The agreement by President Zuma and President Hu Jintao to establish this Working Group was one of the most important outcomes of the Official Visit by President Zuma to China last year. The speed with which our officials worked to finalise the Terms of Reference indicates the commitment both our countries have to speed up our collaboration in this respect. The key objective of this important working group was to identify and work through any obstacles to the implementation of our bilateral commitments. President Zuma has appointed five Cabinet Ministers to serve on the South African side of the Working Group. They are myself as Coordinator and Chairperson, the Minister in the Presidency Responsible for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation as well as Administration in the Presidency, the Minister of Trade and Industry, the Minister of Economic Development, and the Minister of Finance. I will be convening the first meeting of the Joint Inter-Ministerial Working Group later this year and will invite members from your side in due course.
I am confident that you will be able to report to Beijing that all the preparations are well underway for both the State Visit and the BRICS Summit. I also trust that you, as well as your delegation, will leave South Africa, satisfied that we are on track. I also want to reiterate our appreciation for the excellent arrangements you made for our President’s Official Visit to China in 2012 (on the margins of the FOCAC Summit meeting).
During our last meeting in 2012, in preparation for President Zuma’s Official Visit to China, we suggested a number of issues for attention. These included China’s support for mineral beneficiation and value-addition, as well as the introduction of ten investment projects and ten product areas. Whilst reflecting on our collaboration so far, I would like specifically to thank the Chinese Government and its people for supporting our bid for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). This project will open up significant new areas of study and development for the scientific as well as the business sectors, which in turn are bound to foster deeper connections with a globalised world, including China. We are confident that the Chinese scientific and business communities, curious and enterprising as they are, will reap the fruits of this development in South Africa.
We introduced the first SAA flight to Beijing in 2011. In this respect, we can register progress. I also believe that the agreement for airline crew visas is being worked on and will be resolved shortly.
Excellency, South Africa is highly appreciative of the recent announcement that China would make available an additional two hundred (200) scholarships (in groups of 40 students per annum for five years). I believe there are currently sixty (60) students studying in China. We will need to assess the programme and, if needs be, we will find ways to improve the programme. Within this context, I am also happy to report that the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Basic Education is also ready for signature.
With respect to FOCAC, South Africa’s planning to undertake this responsibility is already well advanced. We have every intention to work in synergy with the achievements already made under your chairship. Our common objective will be to take the work of the Forum forward in practical ways. In this regard, we expect to send a high-level delegation to Beijing in the first quarter of 2013 to meet with the FOCAC Secretariat, as well as with high-level authorities on the Chinese side. We want to ensure that our efforts further cement our Partnership and that we understand the Chinese modus operandi. As co-chair, we will continue to ensure continuity of the excellent work already done by China.
Excellency, the 5thBRICS Summit will be hosted at the iNkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre (ICC) in Durban on 27 March 2013. From a substance and logistical point of view, everything is on track. We are progressing well with our planning. We also have a robust plan to publicise the BRICS Summit both nationally and internationally. It is crucial that the achievements of this forum be understood and appreciated by our people, as well as by the international community. More details were made available to BRICS member countries during the customary briefing by the South African Sherpa, Ambassador Matjila, from 29 November to 11 December 2012.
Also allow me to offer my congratulations to the Communist Party of China for the successful completion of its 18th Party Congress, and for electing Vice President Xi Jinping as new party leader. We have no doubt that the leadership is supremely qualified for the task and we have every intention to continue to strengthen our bilateral relations with China in all respects and are looking forward to making acquaintance with the new leadership.
The ruling party of South Africa, the African National Congress, at the 53rd National Congress in Mangaung in December 2012, reaffirmed its confidence in the leadership of President Zuma by re-electing him to continue leading the ruling party.
Excellency, as we look at today’s agenda and consider the depth, substance, scope, level and frequency of our interaction, our Presidents will be able to reconfirm a relationship that has matured way beyond all expectations. Although the time within which our relationship has developed has been relatively short, it has grown from an ordinary bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
Once again, Excellency, welcome to South Africa. May your stay here be fruitful and enjoyable, and may it contribute to the health and prosperity of both our nations.
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION
Private Bag X 152
18 February 2013