On Thursday May 16 2019, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS) and the UJ Library hosted a seminar on the subject of ‘South Africa and China at the United Nations Security Council’.
The seminar was centred on South Africa’s current (third) two-year term in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), a body within the United Nations in which China occupies a permanent seat. The seminar brought in scholars and policymakers to discuss what was at stake, to reflect on previous shared terms, and to paint a clear picture of the present policy landscape and lastly to discuss areas of mutual interest by South Africa and China as strategic partners.
Attendees at this timely gathering included UJ students, UJ staff, members of the South African civil service; members of the diplomatic service of various countries including the Australian High Commission the Embassy of the Russian Federation, the British High Commission and the French Embassy.
Other dignitaries in attendance included the former Minister in the Presidency Dr Essop Pahad, former Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad. The speakers on the program included UJ’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation Professor Saurabh Sinha, Ambassador Lin Songtian, China’s Ambassador to South Africa, Advocate Doctor Mashabane, South Africa’s former Ambassador to the United States Welile Nhlapo and University of Pretoria academic Dr Sithembile Mbete.
Professor Marwala welcomed the guests to UJ, and spoke on the ethos of the institution as one that promotes “not only answers,” but also encourages its students to ask as many critical questions as possible.
Professor Saurabh Sinha opened the programme and spoke on the work already done by the 7-month old Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS), launched in November of 2018. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor discussed the critical role of China to Africa and South Africa’s fortunes and future prospects. “There is no doubt that China has emerged as one of the most critical players in the international arena today. It has done this at a very rapid pace. For Africa, in particular, this relationship is central, with China ranking highly among Africa’s trade and investment partners, and with these figures growing by exponential rates at each year at an average rate of 20 to 40 percent each year,” he said.
He added, “The Africa-China relationship needs to be studied and understood from dynamic and fact-based angles. This Centre [for Africa-China Studies] is therefore a hub and a go-to facility for knowledge on all matters related to the political economy of the Africa-China relationship in its many, many layers.”
CACS Co-Director Dr Monyae gave a brief overview of the United Nations Security Council in terms of its origins, and the powers vested in it by the United Nations Charter and highlighted some of the presently pressing issues around the UNSC’s agenda, including the need to democratise this important body. He then welcomed the chair of the two sessions Professor Peng Yi, the Co-Director of CACS.
Advocate Mashabane spoke on a litany of pressing issues, at the root of which was the apparent undermining of the United Nations Security Council by some of the other members of the UN organ, particularly in the declining budget. This, he demonstrated, has direct implications for the African continent in terms of peacekeeping, as it was the largest recipient of the necessary assistance from the UNSC, as seen for example, in 2016 when the continent had a US$5-billion share of the total US$8-billion budget for that financial year. He argued that as like-minded countries, South Africa and China should forward an ‘African agenda’, while also noting that the UN, despite its many problems and difficulties, still had a role to play and was the next best thing to a global government capable of bringing international order.
Ambassador Lin Songtian, China’s Ambassador to South Africa, discussed the ascendance of China to the United Nations in 1971 and the critical role played by African states, many of whom voted in favor of the resolution which granted China entry and removed Taiwan. The Ambassador then spoke on the interconnectedness of economics to security consideration, and China’s willingness to invest in the security agenda of the United Nations, and pursue in its broader foreign policy the issue of ‘win-win cooperation for shared development’ and also dwelled on his point that China would always support what he called “African solutions to African issues.”
Ambassador Welile Nhlapo spoke on the place of South Africa in the UNSC, giving a review of some of its decisions, including perhaps the most controversial of which, voting in favour of the UNSC Resolution 1973 which enabled a blockade on Libya and soon led to an invasion of that country and the removal of Muamar Gaddafi from power. Ambassador Nhlapo also highlighted the need for an expansion of the UN Security Council, which presently only allows two 2-year terms for African countries. The retired diplomat also spoke on the need for the expansion of the UNSC to include 2 permanent seats for the continent, while also cautioning that the entry of those two countries would also be a potential point of contention as there would be no guarantee that they would always advance the continental agenda.
Issues raised during the question and answer session included China’s establishment of a naval base in Somalia, the role of new media in escalating the probability of future conflicts, and the role of the UNSC in preventing nuclear proliferation. The developments and implications discussed in the seminar will be finalised and produced in a policy brief to be widely circulated.