/ 19 November 2010

China’s sweet climate change deal

South Africa given a $20-billion credit line for energy development, but there's a quid pro quo.

The Chinese government has pledged $20-billion (R140-billion) in credit to the South African government for renewable and nuclear energy. At the same time China wants South Africa’s support for its stance on climate change.

“South Africa wants to expand its nuclear power capacity and China is the country with the most under-construction nuclear power projects in the world,” according to briefing notes prepared by the South African government for engagements with the Chinese government.

The credit line is part of the agreements signed by Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping. He and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe co-chaired a binational commission which ended on Thursday in Cape Town.

Jinping’s visit followed the G20 summit in Seoul last week. China wants to ensure that South Africa supports it on climate change. South Africa’s official view, as put to the Chinese, is that “we need an agreement that recognises the ­common responsibility of all nations to reduce emissions, while not impeding the development of developing countries”.

Diplomatic sources said China wants to ensure that the climate change summit in South Africa next year, rather than any G20 agenda, becomes the decisive forum for negotiations on this controversial topic.

Conference of Parties
No firm agreement is expected to be reached at the end of this month in Cancun, Mexico, where the 16th Conference of Parties (Cop 16) to the Kyoto protocol will be held.

South Africa wants “close cooperation, information exchanges and consultations on climate change within [the] Brazil, South Africa, India and China formation, particularly in preparation for South Africa’s hosting of Cop 17 in November 2011,” according to the South African briefing notes.

Jinping’s recent appointment as vice-chairman of the Chinese central military commission makes him the most likely successor to President Hu Jintao, who will step down as chairman of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012.

Martyn Davies, the chief executive of Frontier Advisory Services and an expert on China, said that China wants closer cooperation with South Africa in multilateral forums, especially because of South Africa’s status as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. China is one of the five permanent members of the council and supported South Africa’s election.

“Many of the interests [of the two countries] are aligned and it is part of the broader relationship,” Davies said.

The Chinese government, with its provision of a credit line to South Africa, wants to facilitate “outward-bound movement” for Chinese companies, Davies said. This “would mean more business for Chinese companies and it will benefit South Africa and Africa because the continent needs commercialisation”.

The ANC has sent many of its senior leaders to China to “understand the functionality of the Chinese government”, he said. “It is not to look through an ideological lens. China runs a very effective government and Pretoria wants to emulate that.”