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Partnership Drive Brings Mutual Benefit to China and SA
 Source: BusinessDay 

SOUTH Africa is reaping the fruits of its decision - taken 15 years ago by the administration of former president Nelson Mandela - of establishing full diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China that today has led to both countries being each other's major trading partners and growing investment flowing in both directions.

As described by Chinese ambassador in South Africa Tian Xuejun, the short 15 years have witnessed enormous achievements in the co-operation between the two countries characterised by enhanced strategic mutual trust and a relationship that has made a "triple jump" in diplomatic category from partnership to strategic partnership and to comprehensive strategic partnership.

This year, South Africa is hosting the fifth Brics Summit to explore fresh ideas and new measures for Brics co-operation and inject greater vitality into the mechanism. South Africa and China also pledged to work hand-in-hand to implement the outcomes of the fifth Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) Ministerial Conference laid out in 2012 to facilitate further development of China-Africa and China-South Africa relations, according to ambassador Tian.

But South Africa's Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies argues that the country has not even begun to take advantage of the many opportunities that exists in China for South Africa's economy to grow. He says China has wisely started working on the new phase of its economic growth, which is to build the character and understand the strength in its local market of the growing middle class.

Therefore South Africa would risk losing an interesting era in its economic relations with China if it remained fixated in "exporting dirt from the ground" as a pillar of its trade relations with China when that country was obviously evolving into one major super market hungry for various useable products that South Africa should be developing and exporting.

Over the past few years, thousands of Chinese have visited South Africa. According to Statistics South Africa, at least 84,862 Chinese tourists visited in 2011. Meanwhile, bilateral trade between China and South Africa has been growing at a phenomenal rate, reaching $45.4bn in 2011, an annual growth rate of 77%, according to statistics released by China Customs. South Africa's exports to China stood at $32.1bn, while its imports from China stood at $13.3bn.

During the first 10 months of 2012, trade volume between the two countries totalled $49.1bn, 34.9% higher than that of 2011. Among them, South Africa's exports to China totalled $36.886bn, 45.2% higher than the same period of 2011; its imports from China totalled $12.259bn, 11.2% higher than the same period of 2011.

But it has not been just business across industries that has led to this growth - there have been benefits for local personnel tasked with facilitating bilateral and multilateral trade relations through training courses offered by the Chinese government, including 200 scholarships for South Africans in the next five years.

According to Bheki Langa, South Africa's ambassador to China, what has been fascinating about the relationship with China is that it is not only about economics and trade. Ordinary South Africans have been amazed to find that while the Chinese are deeply steeped in tradition they are, at the same time, at the forefront of the global drive for modernisation.

"China's phenomenal performance in the economic and technological spheres has become the main topic for academics and development practitioners all over the world. And deconstructing China has become a central preoccupation of both the country's friends and enemies," said Ambassador Langa.

This explains why South Africans are increasingly enrolling in the three Confucius Institutes established in South Africa, and over the past few months there has been a noticeable increase of students coming to China to study Mandarin and other disciplines.

This proves that relations are not confined to business individuals and government officials; the growing people-to-people links symbolise, in his view, the best in the relationship between the two countries.

by Hopewell Radebe


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