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10 Aug 2012 00:00
There can be no doubt that the chill that began to set in during the Bush and Mbeki years has deepened. (AP)
There can be no doubt that the chill that began to set in during the Bush and Mbeki years has deepened.
Anxious to court the emerging powers of Asia and led by a political class steeped in anti-Western rhetoric, South Africa found numerous occasions to demonstrate its "independence": over United Nations Security Council action on Iran, a settlement in Côte d'Ivoire, Libya, intervention in Syria. The US fumed and sought a deeper relationship with countries capable of acting as regional and continental counterweights, notably Nigeria and Kenya.
It is easy - too easy - to view this friction as a straightforward expression of the global struggle for influence between a US-led West and a China-led East, with the Zuma government lining up in the proxy battle for Africa behind Beijing.
But the truth is more complicated.
South Africa is deeply anxious about the character of its trade relationship with China.
Make no mistake, the trade preferences of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which offers tariff-free access to US markets, are deeply important to South Africa and lobbying to extend them beyond their planned 2015 expiry is intense.
South Africa needs a grown-up relationship with the US, for both economic and geopolitical reasons. That means less angry rhetoric, a clearer articulation of how our human rights values indeed extend beyond our borders, and a renewed focus on trade.
Clinton's visit looks like a start.
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