Hu to cement ties with South Africa
Chinese President Hu Jintao was due in South Africa on Tuesday to cement ties with Beijing’s key trading partner on the continent and a crucial ally in pushing the interests of the world’s have-nots.
Hu, who is on an eight-nation African safari marked by Beijing’s largesse of hundreds of millions of dollars to states fuelling China’s economic juggernaut, flies into the continent’s economic powerhouse from neighbouring Namibia.
He is scheduled to hold talks with his South African counterpart Thabo Mbeki during his two-day visit, sign trade agreements and discuss a raft of bilateral issues as well as global topics on which both nations toe a common line.
The Chinese leader is also due to announce a $2,6-million grant to support a homespun SA programme aimed at achieving more rapid and balanced economic growth.
“We are ready to donate money to ... programmes that provide training, capacity building and agricultural development which will create more jobs,” Chinese ambassador Liu Guijin was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.
Ties between the two continental giants have advanced at breakneck speed after diplomatic relations were established in 1998, four years after the demise of apartheid.
China has become South Africa’s second-largest import trading partner in 2005 and eighth-largest export partner, according to the foreign ministry.
But the balance remains heavily tipped in Beijing’s favour. By the end of 2005, South Africa was exporting around $1,2-billion worth of goods to China while the level of imports was worth $4,35-billion.
“President Hu’s visit will enhance the China-South Africa practical cooperation in all fields and promote the comprehensive and in-depth growth of our strategic partnership featuring equality, mutual benefit and common development,” Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said ahead of the visit.
Beijing and Pretoria have also closely cooperated in pushing the agenda of developing nations in forums such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation.
Both favour a revamp of the United Nations and greater market access and tariff-free trade for developing countries striving for more concessions from wealthy nations.
Bilateral trade ties have been clouded by accusations that cheap Chinese textiles were flooding the local market and driving local firms out of business but Beijing last year agreed to put a cap on exports for two years.
South African labour unions had claimed that nearly 67 000 clothing and textile manufacturing jobs were lost from January 2003 to July last year. But retailers said the curb would result in a shortage of fabrics.
Analysts also expect China to tap South Africa as an ally on the UN Security Council after Pretoria became a non-permanent member in January.
“China ... wants our support on the UN Security Council during our two-year membership,” Business Day‘s Jonathan Katzenellenbogen wrote on Tuesday, highlighting South Africa’s controversial recent decision to join China in opposing a United States-led resolution urging democratic reform in Burma.
South Africa has stood by China in the face of criticism that Beijing is only interested in plundering Africa’s mineral and oil wealth and is dumping cheap and shoddy goods here.
Mbeki has stated that China will not “replicate the historic colonial economic relationship in terms of which Africa served as a source of raw materials and a market for goods manufactured in the countries of the colonisers”.
Hu started his swing through Africa in Cameroon, going on to Liberia, Sudan, Zambia and Namibia. From South Africa, he travels on to Mozambique and the Seychelles.
Before Hu’s departure for Africa, Beijing said it would write off debts owed by 33 African countries as part of a multibillion-dollar pledge last year to help fast-track the development of the world’s poorest continent. - AFP