South Africa wants to broaden the relationship with its biggest trade partner, China, from resource exports to partnership in infrastructure and green industries, the South African president and trade minister said yesterday.
“China indeed is a key strategic partner for South Africa, and South Africa is open for business in a big way,” South African President Jacob Zuma told a China-South African business forum during his first trip to China since taking office.
As a sign of Zuma’s seriousness, he was accompanied by 13 Cabinet ministers and a delegation of 370 businesspeople, the largest such group to travel with a South African president. Zuma was to hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) later yesterday.
South African Trade Minister Rob Davies said China became South Africa’s largest trade partner in 2008, and strong demand from China for its resources meant South African exports grew last year despite the global economic problems.
Davies said South Africa is eager to see other parts of its commercial ties developed in addition to natural resources, including investment in industries that develop infrastructure, as well as cooperation on solar water heaters and wind turbines, two areas where China has strong expertise.
Zuma and Davies witnessed the signing of 12 agreements, ranging from memorandums of understanding to possibly develop power grids to memorandums of cooperation to set up a cement plant in South Africa.
One of the agreements was for South Africa’s largest private health insurer, Discovery, to buy 20 percent of Ping An Health Insurance Co, a unit of Ping An Insurance (Group) Co of China Ltd, to jointly develop China’s nascent health insurance market.
Experts said Zuma was also expected to push for South Africa’s inclusion in an informal grouping of emerging markets made up of Brazil, Russia, India and China.
The so-called BRIC nations work to boost trade among themselves and have called for a bigger role in major global financial decisions, primarily within institutions such as the IMF. Zuma has already visited Brazil, Russia and India to lobby for a role in the group, which could help raise South Africa’s political and economic clout.
“South Africa wants to become a member of the BRIC countries and hopes that China will offer support and coordination in this respect,” said Xu Weizhong (徐偉忠), professor and deputy head of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.
Trade ties between Beijing and Johannesburg have grown rapidly in recent years, with China last year overtaking the US as South Africa’s largest export destination.
South Africa also imports more from China than it does any other country, and last year recorded a US$2.7 billion trade deficit with the Asian manufacturing giant — a gap Zuma will be looking to narrow.
South Africa provides iron ore and other vital resources for China, but also offers a strategic link to the rest of Africa, where China has been investing heavily in recent years.
Trade between China and Africa increased 10-fold since 2001, passing the US$100 billion-mark in 2008. Estimates of Chinese investment in Africa range upward from US$6 billion as China tries to lock up oil, gas and other key resources for its resource-hungry economy.