Government officials, who asked not to be named, asked why SA was so determined to placate China when that country undermined SA's economic interests.
In the same week that South Africa claimed it had refused the Dalai Lama a visa in the interests of trade relations with China, the Chinese cocked a snook at the South African government by rejecting its request for new quotas limiting Chinese textile imports.
China told South Africa’s Trade and Industry Department it would not renew the agreement limiting cheap Chinese imports. The deal, signed in 2006, lapsed in December last year.
Government sources told the Mail & Guardian that it was the ANC, not government, that was the major beneficiary of the ban on the Dalai Lama.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) is known to be one of the ANC’s funders, although the ANC will not reveal the extent of its support.
South African trade unions say South African clothing and textile firms have shed about 2 200 workers since the beginning of 2009.
In response to the crisis in the industry, government is planning to fast-track support measures as part of the Customised Sector Programme, implemented by the Industrial Development Corporation. The South African Revenue Service has also set up a dedicated illegal-imports task team.
Defending the visa ban on the Dalai Lama two weeks ago government spokesperson Themba Maseko said it had been imposed “to serve our interests and make sure that we don’t jeopardise bilateral relations with China”.
Government officials, who asked not to be named, asked why South Africa was so determined to placate China when that country undermined South Africa’s economic interests.
Commenting on the quota issue this week, Maseko said: “Doing trade with other nations does not mean we will agree on everything.”
Maseko said he did not have the details of China’s quota decision, but that the government still believed it was correct not to allow the Tibetan leader access to the country.
ANC president Jacob Zuma visited China last June, where he met state president Hu Jintao of the CPC. Zuma said the two parties had come a long way in “solidarity and friendship” and that the visit was meant to strengthen “party-to-party collaboration”.
The ANC’s treasurer general, Mathews Phosa, made a follow-up visit in November.
In addition, ANC Youth League president Julius Malema met Chinese businessmen at the ANC headquarters last month and is the chief mediator in a dispute between representatives of the China Trading Centre and Dragon City shopping mall in Fordsburg.
The deputy director general of international trade and economic development at the department of trade and industry, Xavier Carim, said China refused to renew the quota deal because its textile and clothing industry was also facing “factory closure and massive job layoffs”.
“There is little we could do to have China agree,” said Carim, who conceded that the refusal could seriously harm local clothing producers.
Clothing and textile union Sactwu said there had been a 32% increase in Chinese clothing imports to South Africa in January this year.
A senior Sactwu researcher, Etienne Vlok, said China’s reasons were not convincing, as South Africa accounted for just 0.5% of all China’s clothing exports. “It won’t cause a great deal of damage to them, but the impact is enormous in South Africa.”
Vlok said China wanted to dump its products in South Africa because it was overproducing for market conditions.
Sactwu pushed hard for the government to renew the quota deal because the local industry was facing the challenges of decreased exports and domestic demand and the reluctance of banks to lend to producers.
“The concern is that we will return to the same situation we were in two years ago,” said Vlok.
Cheap Chinese imports cost the local industry more than 60 000 jobs before the quota agreement was implemented in 2006.
Union figures indicate that the clothing and textile sector employed 260 000 people in 1996, a figure which has now dropped to 119 000.