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UJ’s Dr David Monyae explores what the trade war between China and the US means for SA

Dr David Monyae, the Co-Director of the University Of Johannesburg (UJ) Confucius Institute (UJCI), penned an opinion piece published on IOL news, 29 May 2019.

What a remarkable inauguration on a perfect African Day. After the ANC’s victory in the national elections on May 8, Cyril Ramaphosa was inaugurated as president on May 25.

The message was never lost; South Africa is back on the world stage after nine ambivalent years.

The Thuma Mina (send me) message goes beyond South Africa’s shores, vibrating across the continent that Pretoria will actively serve the interests of the continent.

This daunting task, however, won’t be stress free. When Ramaphosa’s predecessor, Jacob Zuma, entered the Union Buildings in 2009, the global financial crisis had just begun. President Ramaphosa faces what is clearly becoming the “Digital Iron Curtain” triggered by US restrictions placed on Chinese tech companies, such as Huawei.

When Ramaphosa joins fellow G20 leaders from June 28-29 in Osaka, Japan, trade war tensions will continue overshadowing other matters affecting the world, especially Africa. Since 2016, the G20 Summit in China, African issues have been receiving great attention.

South Africa and the AU have collectively worked tirelessly to connect AU’s 2063 Vision with the UN Sustainable Development Strategy for 2030.

Ramaphosa’s greatest challenge at this year’s G20 Summit will be how to raise Africa’s challenges of poor infrastructure, high unemployment and slow integration to global partners.

Japan seeks to “achieve a human-centred future society that would be free, open, comprehensive and sustainable”. There is no doubt that the Japanese agenda draws from Confucianism, a philosophy found across Asia. It is a philosophy that shares similarities with Africa’s values and norms of Ubuntu.

Unfortunately, the norms and values advanced by Japan stand in the way of “America First” notions propagated by President Donald Trump. The trade conflict between China and the US could be understood from the background of insular politics in the US to China’s advocacy for a future of shared humanity.

Under such circumstances, what does the Sino-American trade war have to do with South Africa?

The forthcoming G20 meeting will no doubt be held among countries that have assumed antithetical outlooks on the global political economy. South Africa will be tasked with playing a delicate balancing act; first of all, the country should not surrender its sovereign outlook on the current pulse of international politics.

Second, there seems to be no easy way of galvanising a unified G20 in a way that could benefit South Africa and Africa in general.

Thus, one alternative would be to exact commitments from individual members of the G20 such as China and Japan. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has not enjoyed general support in Africa and hence America in general might increasingly forfeit its allure as a global leader. Its reluctance to accept emerging realities about China’s prominence might also force China into a militant position.

It is hoped that the polarised nature of global politics will not foist on Africa a Manichaean dilemma of an either you are with us or you are not nature.

It is almost certain that Democrats, who should typically take a different, more inclusive and liberal stand on international affairs, will be lured into the fear-mongering that Trump is whipping up.

With the seeming popularity of nationalistic sentiment taking hold in much of the West, no ambitious politician would want to style him/herself as being soft on a competitor as formidable as China.

Amid all these cheerless possibilities, it is hoped that Africa will not be sidetracked from pursuing its objectives. South Africa should play a leading role in this respect, and it helps to have a seasoned negotiator as Republican president.

*The views expressed in the article is that of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg

dr david monyae
Dr David Monyae
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