China–South Africa relations

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Sino-South Africa relations
Map indicating locations of China and South Africa


South Africa
For the article on Taiwanese–South African relations, see Republic of China–South Africa relations.

People's Republic of China

– South Africa relations refer to the current and historical relationship between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of South Africa.  As of 2010, China was South Africa's largest trading partner.[1]


South African Air Force 2 Squadron Mustang fighters during the Korean War.

Prior to the fall of apartheid in South Africa relations between the two countries were officially non-existent and unofficially antagonistic. The South African Air Force fought on the side of the United Nations against the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army in the Korean War and enjoyed a strong relationship with the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan. The PRC supported and was closely allied with the anti-apartheid government group the Pan African Congress (PAC) while the African National Congress (ANC) was supported by the PRC's communist rival the Soviet Union.[2]:178


Embassy of South Africa in China

Official relations between the PRC and South Africa were established in January 1998. The dismantling of the apartheid regime in South Africa and the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s opened up the possibility of official relations being established between the PRC and South Africa. Before the 1990s South Africa had a close official relationship with the government in Taiwan for strategic and economic reasons.

The British handover of Hong Kong in 1997 was the catalyst for the South Africans switch in official recognition. Pretoria was concerned how its relationship with Taiwan would affect its trade and diplomatic operations in the region.[2]:168 Additionally key South African politicians and government officials in the post-apartheid government, most notably the Communist Party of South Africa, lobbied strongly in support of shifting recognition to the PRC.[2]:168-169 However Taiwan lobbied hard for continued South African recognition and initiated an expensive public relations drive to convince members of the anti-apartheid government. Then President Nelson Mandela argued in favour of a 'Two Chinas' policy that was incompatible with the Beijing's One China policy. After many years of strong lobbying and engagement with Mandela in November 1996 the South African government announced that it would switch recognition from Taiwan to the PRC in January 1998.[2]:184 A visit by Taipei's Foreign Minister John Chiang to meet with Alfred Baphethuxolo Nzo and attempt to salvage the situation produced no results, and so Taipei's ambassador to Pretoria Gene Loh was recalled on 6 December 1996.[3][4]


In 1992 Sino-South African trade totalled US$14 million, by the time the two countries had set up official relations in 1998 Sino-South African trade had swelled to US$1.4 billion.[2]:182 By 2010 trade between the two countries had increased to US$25.6 billion with imports from South Africa reaching US$14.8 billion. Cross country investment had grown to US$7 billion in the same year. Most South African exports to China in 2010 were primary products.[5]

In December 2010, South Africa was invited to join China in BRICS group of emerging economies.[6] With the invitation, it was expected that South Africa would expand its trade relations with other BRIC countries, including China. Some see the BRICS relationship as potentially competing with South Africa's relations with the IBSA Dialogue Forum.[7] In July 2010 the South African publication Business Day reported that 45% of SABMiller's growth would come from its China operations by 2014. The anomalous growth of South African media company Naspers in 2009 was largely owed to its stake in the Chinese company Tencent.[8]

Increasingly the South African government, inspired by China's success in reducing poverty and promoting economic growth, is looking to China for policy ideas and inspiration in its efforts at promoting growth.[8]

Chinese development finance to South Africa[edit]

From 2000 to 2011, there are approximately 37 Chinese official development finance projects identified in South Africa through various media reports.[9] These projects range from a financial cooperation agreement worth of $2.5 US billion between the Development Bank of South Africa and the China Development Bank,[10] to an investment of $877 million by China's state-owned miner Jinchuan and China Development Bank in South Africa's platinum industry,[11] and an investment of $250 million USD by China's Huaqiang Holdings in a theme park in Johannesburg.[12]


South African former Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka giving a speech at Tsinghua University's School of Public Policy and Management on Sino-South African relations in 2007.

In the early nineties, before South Africa officially recognised the PRC, Chinese Foreign Minister and politburo member Qian Qichen (钱其琛) paid an unofficial and very quiet visit to South Africa to meet senior government ministers and inspect possible future embassy sights. Then South African Minister for Foreign Relations, Pik Botha, interrupted his participation in the CODESA talks to have the first high level meeting between South Africa and the PRC.[2]:177 In October 1991 a South African delegation including Pik Botha went to Beijing to meet Qian Qichen.[2]:168-169

In September 2007 then South African Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka visited Beijing and met with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡锦涛).[13] After which she gave a speech at Tsinghua University on building Sino-South African relations.[14]

Sino-South African relations expanded significantly in 2010 following a number of high level official visits and exchanges by officials from both countries. In late March 2010 CPPCC Chairman Jia Qinglin (贾庆林) visited South Africa and met with South Africa's President Jacob Zuma and signed contracts worth more than US$300 million.[15]

In August 2010 President Jacob Zuma led a South African delegation of 17 cabinet members and 300 businesspeople to China[1][16] where they signed the Beijing Declaration on the Establishment of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of South Africa. This was followed by a visit to China by speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa Max Sisulu in October 2010. In November 2010 Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (习近平) travelled to South Africa to meet with South African Vice President Motlanthe and signed bilateral cooperation agreements in energy, trade statistics, banking regulation and other areas.[15] His visit was followed by an official goodwill visit to South Africa by China's top legislator Wu Bangguo (吴邦国) in May 2011 as part of his Africa-Asia tour which included Namibia and Angola.[17]

In late September 2011 South African Vice President Motlanthe lead a trade delegation to Beijing at the invitation of Chinese Vice President Xi. During the visit the China Development Bank and the Development Bank of South Africa signed a US$2.5 billion agreement. The two countries also signed a Memorandum of Understanding on geological exploration and mineral resources.[18]

On the 17 July 2012 President Zuma led a South African delegation that included International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies to attend the fifth Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) in Beijing.[19]

The emergence of China as a power among others gives or offers an opportunity to African countries to be able to free themselves from the shackles that are really colonially designed

- Jacob Zuma, speaking at Tsinghua University, 2014[20]

In December 2014 President Zuma led another delegation of South African government ministers and a 100 representatives of South African business to China[20] representing a further consolidation of warm South African-Sino relations.[21] From the South African side trade imbalances, China's impact on South African industry, and concerns over China's influence over South Africa's domestic and international affairs remain issues of concern for bilateral relations.[22]


It has been alleged that South Africa's ruling political party, the African National Congress, has received funding for election campaigns from foreign countries particularity for the 2009 national elections. Amongst the foreign countries accused of giving money to the ANC is the Communist Party of China. Other countries and the ruling political parties and figures accused of giving money to the ANC include the Congress Party of India, the Gaddafi regime in Libya and Equatorial Guinea.[23][24]

Dalai Lama[edit]

The Dalai Lama visited South Africa in 1996, (meeting then president Nelson Mandela), 1999 and 2004.[25] In March 2009 the Dalai Lama was refused entry to South Africa, officially to keep Tibetan politics from overshadowing the 2010 Soccer World Cup.[26][27] The refusal to allow the Dalai Lama to visit South Africa sparked a political debate within South Africa about the country's political and business interests with China, with some accusing the government of "selling out" sovereignty, and others pointing out the negative consequences to Sino-French business relations after French president Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Dalai Lama.[28]

In 2011 the Dalai Lama was invited to attend and give a lecture at the 80th birthday of Desmond Tutu in October. The Dalai Lama's staff accused the South African government of delaying consideration of his visa application because of Chinese pressure, but the government denied such pressure and counteraccused the Dalai Lama of not submitting any visa applications.[25][29] Three days before Tutu's birthday the Dalai Lama announced that he would not attend the event as he did not expect to be granted a visa. Tutu responded by calling the ANC government "worse than the apartheid government" and suggested that the government should be toppled in the style of the Arab Spring.[30] The Dalai Lama joined Tutu on his birthday by videoconferencing, calling China a country "built on lies" and "run by hypocrites", and implored Tutu to continue inviting him to South Africa to "test [South Africa's] government".[31] Opposition and COSATU politicians again accused the ANC government of "betraying South Africa's sovereignty and Constitution."[32] Others in South Africa argued that the Dalai Lama's physical nonattendance was ultimately in South Africa's interests, reasoning that "it's easier to Skype in the Dalai Lama than [to find] billions in alternative investments."[33]

Dalai Lama was again unable to enter South Africa when he was invited to attend the Nobel Peace Laureates world summit in October 2014. It is alleged by the mayor of Cape Town that he was asked by national government to withdraw his application for a visa to visit SA for reasons “in the national interest” so as to avoid embarrassment by his visa being officially rejected.[34]

Chinese South Africans[edit]

Chinese South Africans are an ethnic group of Chinese diaspora in South Africa. They and their ancestors immigrated to South Africa beginning during the Dutch colonial era in the Cape Colony. Since 2000 an estimated 350,000 Chinese immigrations, most of whom came from mainland China, have settled in South Africa[35]



  1. ^ a b South Africa-China trade ties: President Zuma bids to shore up 'Gateway to China' status Christian Science Monitor, 25 August 2010
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  6. ^ Joining BRIC not a game changer
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