‘Forward Together’ is the theme as China celebrates 25 years of diplomatic relations

Helmo Preuss

Helmo Preuss

Published Dec 13, 2023


Helmo Preuss

“Forward Together” was the theme of Chinese Ambassador to South Africa Chen Xiaodong’s speech on December 12 at a reception celebrating 25 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations at the Chinese embassy in Pretoria.

Chen noted that although China and South Africa are geographically far apart, the two countries enjoy a long history of friendly exchanges which provide a fine example for China-Africa co-operation and South-South co-operation.

This is evidenced by the frequent state visits, as well as the numerous bilateral mechanisms, such as the Bi-National Commission, the Joint Economic and Trade Commission and the Strategic Dialogue.

“We have now together entered a new stage of building a high-level China-South Africa community with a shared future,” Chen said.

The second pillar of the “Forward Together” theme is the growth in bilateral trade with bilateral trade in 1998 amounting to only $1.6 billion which has now expanded almost 35 times to some $57bn, which is equivalent to one quarter of China-Africa trade.

China has been South Africa’s largest trading partner for several years and in 2022, China accounted for 9.4% of South Africa’s exports and 20.2% of South Africa’s imports, according to the South African Revenue Service (Sars). In rand terms, exports to China totalled R188.4bn, while South Africa imported R367.4bn, resulting in a trade surplus in favour of China worth R179bn.

South African beef, citrus, red wine, oysters, rooibos tea and other products are very popular among Chinese consumers, while Chinese enterprises have invested over $25bn US dollars in South Africa, which is over 100 times more than 1994 and also have created more than 400 000 local jobs.

The third pillar of the “Forward Together” theme are the warm people-to-people exchanges as the number of people travelling between China and South Africa increased by about 10-fold as the High-Level People-to-People Exchange Mechanism that was established was the first of its kind between China and all of Africa.

This meant that among all African countries, South Africa built the most sister province and city relations with China, set up the most Confucius Institutes and classrooms, and hosts the largest number of Chinese students, while the Chinese language has been included into South Africa's national education system. Chinese culture and language have become more and more popular in South Africa.

The fourth pillar of the “Forward Together” theme is solid strategic co-operation in multilateral organisations such as the United Nations, the G20, BRICS and the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) countries. This resulted in China and South Africa working together to see the African Union join the G20.

“We always together safeguard peace and development in Africa and there are several reasons why China-South Africa relations have made such glorious achievements. During the past decade, President Xi Jinping paid four state visits to South Africa and steered the relations between our two countries forward from a strategic and long-term perspective. We always adhere to mutual respect and mutual trust. We support each other in exploring the path of development that suits our own conditions as well as on issues of our respective core interests and major concerns,” Chen said.

In August, President Xi Jinping paid a successful state visit to South Africa.

“China is ready to work with South Africa to earnestly implement our Heads of State’s important consensus, actively build partnerships on four aspects and join hands to build a high-level China-South Africa community with a shared future. Together, we can work to set a fine example for fostering a China-Africa community with a shared future and the community with a shared future for mankind,” Chen said.

China looks forward to working with South Africa for stronger high-quality Belt and Road co-operation, and China is committed to realising the goal of importing 100 billion US dollars’ worth of goods from South Africa within three years.

To help South Africa deal with load shedding, the first consignment of emergency electricity equipment donated by China to South Africa has already been distributed to hospitals, schools and other organisations across the country and China will expand co-operation with South Africa in electricity and energy, so as to assist South Africa in responding to the power crisis.

Helmo Preuss is an economist at Forecaster Ecosa

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