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Multi-Dimensional Partnership
Lin Songtian, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, shares his views on bilateral ties between the two countries
 NO. 1 JANUARY 4, 2018

A bird’s eye view of a railway terminal in northern Pretoria on July 27. Some of the locomotives are introduced from China (XINHUA)

Editor's Note: January 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of China-South Africa diplomatic relations. These 20 years have witnessed the rapid growth of bilateral ties between the two countries in all aspects through interactions under frameworks such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) cooperation platform and the Belt and Road Initiative. But how can the two sides further integrate their cooperation under these frameworks and what is the outlook for China-South Africa relations in the coming decades? Lin Songtian, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, shared his views on these and other points in an exclusive interview with Beijing Review. Edited excerpts of his opinions follow:

Beijing Review: What is your take on the current economic and trade relationship between China and South Africa?

Lin Songtian: At present, the economic and trade cooperation between China and South Africa has seen solid progress and shows good momentum of multi-directional, multilevel and wide-ranging rapid development. China has been South Africa's largest trading partner for eight consecutive years, and South Africa is China's largest trading partner and the most important investment and tourism destination in Africa. In 2016, the bilateral trade volume between China and South Africa reached $35.3 billion, accounting for about 25 percent of the total trade volume between China and Africa, which was a 20-fold increase from 1998 when the two countries established diplomatic relations. China's non-financial direct investment in South Africa has accumulated to more than $15 billion.

Currently, China has more than 300 large and medium-sized enterprises with investment in South Africa, involving a wide range of sectors such as finance, agriculture, manufacturing, information technology and other fields.

[These include] South Africa's state-owned transport group [Transnet] ordering 232 diesel locomotives from China's CRRC Corp. Ltd. worth a total of $900 million, which is the largest single order in China's rail transit vehicle export.

China's home appliance brand Hisense has set up factories in South Africa. The annual output of TV sets and refrigerators both reached 40 million units, making up 26 percent and 22.4 percent of the market, respectively, ranking first and second in the two sectors.

China FAW Group also set up a factory in the Coega Industrial Development Zone in South Africa. In 2016, the factory produced 1,152 vehicles. Designed with an annual output of 100,000 vehicles, Beijing Automotive Group Co. Ltd. is building a factory in the zone, which is expected to be put into production by the end of March 2018.

China's IT giant Huawei established its first R&D Innovation Center in South Africa and implemented a five-year plan for training. Beijing Tong Ren Tang Group Co. Ltd. set up five traditional Chinese medicine pharmacies and clinics in South Africa, which is an important milestone marking traditional Chinese medicine's entry into Africa. In addition, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China Construction Bank (CCB), Bank of China (BOC) and China-Africa Development Fund (CADFund) also set up offices and began operating in Johannesburg.

What kind of activities will be held to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and South Africa in 2018?

China and South Africa both attach great importance to [this milestone] and are planning a series of celebrations to lift China-South Africa relations to new heights. At present, our preliminary plans are as follows:

First, there will be a series of celebrations around high-level exchange visits. Chinese leaders will attend the 10th BRICS Summit in South Africa and South African leaders will visit China to attend FOCAC Ministerial Conference and other high-level exchanges. We will encourage the media, think tanks and overseas Chinese to engage in related activities and make great strides in promoting these activities.

Second, celebrations will be held at specific times. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the leaders and foreign ministers of the two countries will exchange congratulatory messages, and the two sides will hold a reception in their respective capitals. During the Spring Festival period, cultural troupes from China will visit South Africa.

Third, we will hold celebrations to deepen bilateral cooperation. Seminars will be held by the media, think tanks and enterprises to fully demonstrate achievements made during the 20 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations and look at the bright future prospects. In addition, China-South Africa trade fairs, investment and commodity exhibitions are being planned to promote bilateral economic and trade cooperation.

Fourth, activities will be held to promote cultural and people-to-people exchanges. The Second Meeting of the China-South Africa High-Level People-to-People Exchange Mechanism will be held in China in 2018. Together with South Africa, China will organize themed exchange activities involving culture, science and technology, health and youth to foster a festive atmosphere to encourage people in the two countries to participate. The dialogue between China and South Africa will create a paradigm of cultural and people-to-people exchanges. In addition, we plan to cooperate with South Africa in [the fields of] education, science and technology, cultural activities and the fight against wildlife poaching.

As the next holder of the presidency of BRICS, South Africa will host the 10th summit of the bloc in 2018. Which new partnerships are you expecting to be established between China and South Africa under the framework?

As the only African country in the bloc, South Africa takes BRICS cooperation as one of its diplomatic priorities. BRICS countries have maintained close communication and coordination on related issues under the framework and reinforced related cooperation to jointly safeguard the rights and interests of developing nations. During the G20 Hangzhou Summit in 2016, China and South Africa joined hands with other BRICS members to promote G20 to formulate an action plan on the implementation of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and support industrialization in Africa and the world's least developed countries. Meanwhile, the establishment of the African Regional Center of the New Development Bank (NDB) in Johannesburg in August 2017 will facilitate cooperation between African countries and BRICS.

The 10th BRICS Summit will be held in South Africa in 2018, presenting a new opportunity for the two sides to deepen bilateral cooperation under the framework. China will give full support to South Africa to host the summit. It will stay in communication and collaboration with South Africa on mapping out the agenda for the next summit to better implement the action plans of the Xiamen Summit and promote the BRICS Plus mechanism for solidarity and partnerships of mutual benefits between emerging nations and developing countries, especially those on the African continent. Its goal is to ensure a second golden decade of BRICS cooperation, benefiting the bloc and more and more African countries.

A teacher from South Africa helps local students in Changxing County of Zhejiang Province to learn English on August 4 (XINHUA)

How do you see China's foreign policy in the new era after the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC)? What are the implications for Sino-South African relations?

The 19th CPC National Congress is a milestone event of profound historic significance at the decisive stage of completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all aspects and a critical period of socialism with Chinese characteristics entering a new era. It proposed a series of new thoughts and new strategies, mapped out a new grand blueprint for future development, and made full deployment on advancing the cause of the CPC, the nation and diplomacy with Chinese characteristics.

It set up a new objective on forging a form of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation, building a community with a shared future for mankind, and creating a brighter future for the global community. The objective is to build an open, inclusive, clean and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security and common prosperity.

Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, stressed that the Party strives for both the wellbeing of the Chinese people and human progress. China's peaceful development is inseparable from a peaceful and prosperous world. Therefore, it is committed to building a beautiful China as well as a community with a shared future for mankind, making greater contribution to a better world.

These solemn commitments showcase that the CPC is ready to shoulder responsibility and see that its development benefits the whole world.

Both China and South Africa are influential emerging economies, co-chair countries of the FOCAC, and key members of multilateral platforms like BRICS, G20 and the United Nations. The two countries both see bilateral ties as one of their diplomatic priorities.

Since China and South Africa established diplomatic relations in 1998, bilateral relations have evolved from a partnership to a strategic partnership, then to a comprehensive strategic partnership. In the new era, China's foreign policy puts forward new requirements for and expectations on Sino-South African relations. China will make efforts to broaden mutual understanding and strengthen cooperation with South Africa to upgrade bilateral ties and set an example for South-South cooperation.

South Africa is an important foothold to align the African continent with the Belt and Road Initiative. More partnership agreements will be signed so that Africa can benefit from this initiative.

It has been two years since the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit held in December 2015. How are the outcomes of the summit being implemented? China will host the next FOCAC Ministerial Conference in 2018. How can this mechanism boost the China-Africa partnership?

President Xi announced 10 China-Africa cooperation plans to boost African industrialization and agricultural modernization. He pledged China would offer $60 billion of funding support, helping African countries break the three development bottlenecks of dilapidated infrastructure, talent shortage and inadequate funds, and realize independent and sustainable development.

With joint efforts, many achievements have been made in regard to the implementation of the achievements made at the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit. According to incomplete statistics, there have been 606 finished and unfinished Chinese supported projects in Africa valued at $108 billion since the summit. China has trained 100,000 technicians for African countries and offered about 20,000 government scholarships to African students. The Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway and the Abuja-Kaduna Railway have also been completed.

Production capacity cooperation has been accelerating with countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia and Nigeria. The establishment of economic special zones and industrial parks in Ethiopia, Zambia, Uganda, the Republic of Congo and Egypt has made remarkable progress.

Guided by the FOCAC, bilateral win-win cooperation has entered a new stage of upgrade and transformation. The partnership has been upgraded from a model driven by government-dominated aid to one led by business investments, from focusing on trade to production capacity cooperation and manufacturing transformation, and from engineering project contracting to investment and financial cooperation.

The FOCAC conference in 2018 will be a new milestone for China-Africa cooperation. China is ready to take this opportunity to upgrade bilateral cooperation to a new level by aligning the Belt and Road Initiative with visions of African countries. The coming conference will push forward cooperation on areas of politics, economy, culture, security and international affairs, and further enrich the China-Africa strategic partnership.

To this end, China and South Africa should further expand new economic partnerships. First, we will align economic construction into the Belt and Road Initiative, explore maritime economic cooperation, and foster new sources of economic growth to diversify our economies. Second, we can tap into the potential of China's New Four Great Inventions—high-speed trains, mobile payment, shared bikes and online shopping—to accelerate the modernization of Africa. Third, we will support settlements in renminbi, China's currency, in China-Africa trade to help African countries lower currency exchange costs and foreign exchange risks. Fourth, we will deepen security cooperation to create a safe and peaceful environment for African economies and China-Africa cooperation. Fifth, we will make joint efforts on enhancing partnerships in the medical sector to help Africa solve the problem of insufficient medicine and medical services.

As China's new ambassador to South Africa, what measures are you going to take to further promote Sino-South African relations?

China and South Africa is going to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations this year, the first year after the landmark 19th CPC National Congress. It is also the first year of the second golden decade under the BRICS mechanism. China is also to host the next FOCAC Ministerial Conference. These all present both sides opportunities to deepen bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership.

South Africa, the largest economy in Africa, enjoys an advantageous geographical location and abundant resources. It has sound infrastructure, legal system and business environment. China has capital, technology, market, businesses and experience of development to share with South Africa. Both economies are highly complementary and share common interests, presenting an historic opportunity for common development.

China and South Africa will make full use of close bilateral ties featuring political mutual trust, complementary economies and people's friendship to expand common interests and areas for partnerships. The focuses will be infrastructure, human resource training, production capacity building, agricultural modernization, maritime economy, tourism, finance, security, people-to-people exchanges and cooperation on international affairs. The aim of our partnership is to enable South Africa to spearhead industrialization and economic development in the whole continent, and make cooperation to benefit people of both countries.

Since China put forward the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, what achievements have been reached in Sino-South African cooperation in this regard? What are the future plans on strengthening bilateral partnerships under the initiative?

With a well-developed economy, South Africa is one of the most attractive destinations of tourism and investment from China. It is also a country of choice for China's international production capacity cooperation program, and a foothold to align the African continent with the Belt and Road Initiative. Bilateral cooperation to promote connectivity of policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people has achieved fruitful outcomes.

As for policy coordination, state leaders of both countries and personnel at all levels maintain close and frequent exchanges. As comprehensive strategic partners, China and South Africa share a similar stance on international affairs and important issues like the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and climate change. The two countries keep close coordination and cooperation in international organizations and multilateral platforms like the UN, G20, BRICS and FOCAC in an effort to improve global governance and safeguard the common interests of developing countries. Our bilateral cooperation in this regard also contributes to African unity, economic integration and the shared development of China and Africa.

As for connectivity of infrastructure and facilities, there are several direct flights and shipping lanes between the two countries. Locomotives made in China have been exported to South Africa on a large scale. Chinese IT firms like Huawei and ZTE have been actively participating in the construction of telecommunications infrastructure in South Africa.

As for unimpeded trade, China has been the largest trade partner of South Africa for eight consecutive years, and South Africa has been China's largest trade partner in Africa for seven years in a row. During this period, bilateral trade took up about a quarter of the total China-Africa trade.

As for financial integration, South Africa attracts the most Chinese investment in Africa. Bilateral financial cooperation is fruitful and beneficial. The ICBC, CCB, BOC, China Development Bank and CADFund have set up branches or launched businesses in South Africa. China's first bank for renminbi settlement businesses in Africa is located in South Africa. Renminbi has been made South Africa's reserve currency. Offshore renminbi-bonds have been issued in South Africa.

On the topic of closer people-to-people ties, Chinese has been included in the national education system of South Africa. The China-South Africa High-Level People-to-People Exchange Mechanism was established earlier. The Year of South Africa was celebrated in China in 2014 and the Year of China was held in South Africa the following year.

South Africa has the most Chinese sister cities and Confucius Institutes and classrooms, and receives the most overseas Chinese and Chinese students.

South Africa approves of the Belt and Road Initiative and expects more cooperation under this mechanism. With shared interests and complementary economies, the two countries could further enhance win-win cooperation in sectors of tourism, agriculture, industry, maritime economy, infrastructure, education, human resources, medical service and technology.

Copyedited by Francisco Little

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