What to expect from China’s state visit to South Africa

22 August 2023 - 07:05
By Amanda Khoza
President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Union Buildings in Pretoria in July 2018.
Image: Kopano Tlape/GCIS President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Union Buildings in Pretoria in July 2018.

The South African and Chinese flags will by flying high at the Union Buildings as President Cyril Ramaphosa hosts President Xi Jinping on a state visit to Pretoria on Tuesday.

It will be the usual pomp and ceremony with Xi inspecting the guard of honour before going into a bilateral meeting with Ramaphosa and some members of his cabinet behind closed doors. Like all heads of state, Xi will also be respected with a 21-gun salute by the South African National Defence Force.

The visit is taking place ahead of the much-anticipated 15th Brics summit from Tuesday until Thursday at the Sandton Convention Centre where about 40 world leaders will come together to discuss economical and geopolitical matters. 

China and South Africa are celebrating 25 years of diplomatic relations.

In his newsletter on Monday Ramaphosa said this was Xi’s fourth state visit to South Africa. 

Bilateral trade with China has grown exponentially, from less than R1bn in 1998 to over R614bn in 2022. We hope to use this state visit to discuss how to narrow the significant trade deficit that exists in China’s favour, mainly through facilitating greater entry of value-added South African goods, products and services into the Chinese market,” said Ramaphosa. 

He added that Xi’s visit is an opportunity to assess progress in the areas of co-operation and identify ways of deepening collaboration. 

“Energy co-operation between South Africa and China is a focus area that holds great promise. In June this year companies from both countries participated in a new energy investment and co-operation conference, which looked at opportunities for collaboration in the green economy, the just energy transition and on the transfer of science and technology,” said Ramaphosa.

He said there are about 200 Chinese companies operating in this area in South Africa. 

Presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said relations between South Africa and China are governed by a comprehensive strategic partnership (CSP), whose programme of action is set out in a ten-year strategic programme of co-operation (2020—2029). 

 “The state visit by President Xi on August 22 will give the leaders and their delegations an opportunity to reflect on developments under the comprehensive strategic partnership and to consider further deepening of co-operation.” 

Magwenya said the visit crowns deliberations between the two governments on implementing structures such as the binational commission, joint working group, people-to-people exchange mechanism and strategic dialogue. 

“South Africa and China enjoy vibrant economic relations and China is South Africa’s largest global trading partner by volume. China is an important investor in South Africa and provides support on infrastructure development projects including the small harbour development project, the TVET refurbishment project and the Mzimvubu water project, all of which are instrumental in job creation.” 

He said discussions during the visit will explore further collaboration and partnerships the two nations can leverage to solidify existing diplomatic, economic and people-to-people relations. 

Expected outcomes include the reaffirming of the close and historic political ties underpinned by solidarity, win-win partnership and people-to-people co-operation within the framework of the comprehensive strategic partnership and in celebration of 25 years of diplomatic relations. The aims are:

“To underscore the urgent need to address trade balance and diversify South African exports to China by identifying broad market access for value-added products. To highlight the importance of sustainable foreign direct investment through supporting manufacturing, infrastructure, and beneficiation and encourage close private sector engagement from both countries. 

“To acknowledge the support of China on bilateral technical co-operation under the Forum for China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) in addressing South Africa’s domestic imperatives. To exchange views on regional issues in support for development, peace, and security. 

“To enhance multilateral co-operation, specifically within the context of Brics, the G77 plus China, and the G20 and to seek Chinese support for South Africa and Africa’s call for the reform of global governance institutions, notably the UN Security Council.” 

Magwenya said several agreements and memoranda of understanding are expected to be signed during the visit.