Nuclear pact tops agenda for Chinese PM in SA

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in South Africa on Wednesday on a groundbreaking visit during which the two giants are to sign a nuclear cooperation pact and discuss the thorny question of textile imports from Beijing.

Wen, the first Chinese premier in 50 years to visit Africa’s largest economy, landed in Cape Town around 1.20pm (11.20am GMT) from Angola on the latest leg of his seven-nation African tour.

He was greeted by Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and her deputy Aziz Pahad on the tarmac. Wen is due to hold talks with South African President Thabo Mbeki and meet with top government officials and business leaders during his two-day visit.

South African officials have said the proposed agreement between South Africa and power-hungry China on the peaceful use of nuclear energy was vital.

“The agreement has a number of key points including ... the mining of uranium [and] South Africa and China’s joint development of nuclear reactors,” said Tseliso Maqubela, the chief director of nuclear energy at the Deparment of Mineral and Energy Affairs.

“Another key point of the agreement will be the exchange of personnel between South Africa and their Chinese counterparts [in the nuclear field],” he said.

Also high on the agenda were South Africa’s trade relations with China’s textile juggernaut, analysts have said.

The South African textiles sector has been hit hard by cheap imports and ready-made products from China and Mbeki’s government has come under increasing pressure to deal with the problem.

But analysts have suggested that the answer does not lie in protectionism, but rather in the liberalisation of trade with Beijing, which is expected to push for a free-trade agreement.

Earlier this month, China committed itself to restricting textile exports to South Africa following similar deals with the United States and Europe.

Also of concern to South Africa is its huge trade deficit with the Asian giant.
South African exports to China amounted to R5,5-billion ($801-million) while it imported more than R18-billion in manufactured goods in 2004, according to government statistics.

Even though there are more than 80 Chinese companies in South Africa, foreign direct investment amounted to $130-million as opposed to $400-million invested by South African companies in China, said Deputy Foreign Minister Pahad.

The two continental powerhouses are also scheduled to push the developing world’s agenda in the global arena.

Wen’s visit comes ahead of the first Asia-Africa summit to be hosted by China later this year and a key Group of Eight summit in Russia with leading developing countries in attendance including China and South Africa.

Pahad said Wen’s trip “comes at a very important time, I believe, when we are trying to consolidate South-South cooperation with a view to improving market access, trade and investment”.

He said it was a perfect opportunity ahead of the G8 summit to “prepare a coherent South approach” on such issues such as energy security, climate change, health care and education.

Wen is due to leave South Africa on Thursday for Tanzania and Uganda for the final stage of his tour. - AFP

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