This year, South Africa and China celebrate a 20-year anniversary since the two countries’ diplomatic relations were formalised. Speaking at a seminar entitled, “Sino-South Africa Relations at 20: Key Lessons for the Next Decade” on Friday, 16 March 2018, organised by the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Confucius Institute and the Concerned Africans Forum (CAF), China’s Ambassador to South Africa, H.E Lin Songtian, said that China is ready to expand investment in South Africa.
With a people-minded-approach, Ambassador Songtian told the packed audience, composed of students, academics, policymakers, government officials and business leaders, that job creation is the armament to poverty alleviation. He said that China’s socialist development attitude on caring for the majority of the people to share resources was the answer to empowering poor South Africans. “We care for all people. We wish to see the South Africa-China relationship grow from strength to strength. Our countries’ shared comprehensive and strategic partnership will not change due to leadership change because we have much in common. Our ties in the global significance, mutual understanding on various issues, BRICS, G20, and in the United Nations reflect the long-term investment that we nurture whether in mining, textiles, electronics, and tourism,” said Ambassador Songtian. The Ambassador further asserted that South Africa is a beautiful country, with potential in tourism. He, however, cautioned that South Africa needs to address some concerns relating to security and ease of doing business.
Ambassador Songtian said that South Africa-China relations are based on trust, economic development and people to people relations. He said that China’s investment in infrastructure in Africa showed that the East Asian nation was open for business with Africans. He mentioned a few areas of development that proved China’s investment in Africa, such as the $100 billion investment in BRICS Development Bank, the railway corridors that will enable economic activity between Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, as well as reopening of a mine in Phalaborwa (South Africa) extended to the year 2038, co-hosting summits, and the Hisense growing as a trusted brand in South Africa, among many other matters.
In a question and answer session, he asserted that there are many opportunities for eager UJ students who wish to study in China, and that the UJCI was an important mechanism for facilitating attaining scholarships there.
Prof Garth Shelton from Wits University added to Ambassador Songtian’s approval that China is ready for construction in Africa. He said that China’s track record on poverty reduction in their country is the best model for South Africa, and that China can help Africa on food security and industrial development. Prof Shelton pointed out that South Africa had thousands of untapped opportunities particularly in the green economy. He suggested that the South Africa-China relations be strengthened with the establishment of centers that will focus on niche sectors such as academia, agriculture, industrial development and many others to deal with various growth topics. He added that South Africa and other African countries should pay attention to China’s trade, skills transfer to create jobs, study China methods on poverty reduction and its corporate social investment, tourism and that Africans should create enabling conditions to attract investment.
Dr Bob Wekesa, also from Wits University, said, “It would be good for China to deal with Africa as a whole than as individual countries.” Dr Wekesa also suggested that there were unexplored research questions and opportunities in the area of the Chinese diaspora in South Africa, which came to the country in “three waves of migration beginning in the 19th century.”
Dr David Monyae, Co-Director of the UJ Confucius Institute recommended seven lessons for South Africa: “The notion of South Africa serving as a ‘gateway’ to Africa should be reconsidered. While South Africa remains the biggest economy on the continent, other economies – notably Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt – are growing far more rapidly. China has an African strategy and agenda, underpinned by extensive research. By contrast, South Africa and Africa are lagging in terms of Afro-Sino knowledge, and lack a comprehensive strategy for engaging with China. South Africa needs to improve its manufacturing output and identify sectors in which it can gain a comparative advantage, thereby making it more globally competitive,” said Dr Monyae
”Untapped opportunities for Sino-Africa collaboration include the ocean economy, the green economy, and a host of others presented by the onset of the fourth industrial revolution. The role of the media in strengthening engagement between South African and Chinese citizens cannot be ignored. Along the lines of the Confucius Institutes, South Africa and other African countries should establish African canters in China that promote African languages and cultures. At the same time, the Confucius Institutes should be used to intensify knowledge of China so that South Africans and Africans in general can develop greater insight into Chinese histories, sensibilities and touchpoints,” added Dr Monyae.