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Commemorating 25 years of diplomatic relations with China and South Africa

by Thaabit Kamaar
Photo by [Polity]

Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of South Africa and China’s diplomatic relations. The anniversary coincides with China handing over the chairmanship of BRICS to South Africa in the same year.

The official relations between the two nations began in 1998 under the leadership of South Africa’s then President, Nelson Mandela. And two nations have flourished together ever since.

According to Gwinyai Regis Taruvinga, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Humanities Graduate Centre at Wits University, the “25 years of bilateral relations with China has been a positive step for South Africans, especially with how South Africa not only views itself within the African continent but also in the global arena”.


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Mutually Beneficial Partnership

The bilateral relations have been mutually beneficial for the better part of two decades, with exports and imports reaching record heights.

This resulted in China becoming South Africa’s largest trading partner and subsequently making South Africa China’s largest trading partner in Africa.

“This is a positive step in terms of South Africa solidifying the relationship over the last 25 years. I think the most important thing here is the role that South Africa plays within BRICS and that bilateral relationship with China is extremely important in that regard”.

However beneficial their diplomatic relations are, there is criticism aimed at the South African government for not taking complete advantage of their relationship with China and member BRICS states.

Policy of Non-Alignment

There is also the question of South Africa’s position regarding global developments, as South Africa’s foreign policy adopts a stance of non-alignment.

South Africa, in recent months, selected a position of neutrality on the invasion of Ukraine and the tensions between the United States and China which occurred during the Trump administration.

In his opinion, Taruvinga thinks it is extremely important for South Africa to maintain their position of non-alignment as there are many benefits to gain from their diplomatic relations.

Therefore, it is necessary for the country to distance itself from global conflicts between its western partners and members of BRICS, thus maintaining their interests on both sides.

“What we see is a balancing act … Hence we begin to see mixed signals whereby, you’re not actually sure where South Africa stands but what we do see, and what I have observed, is that it is a notion of a mutually beneficial relationship between South Africa and particular actors … You can almost argue that the country is on a knife edge”.


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