Remarks by the CAF Chairperson, Mr Aziz Pahad, on the occasion of marking the 20th Anniversary of SA-China Relations: University of Johannesburg, March 16, 2018.


Speakers on the Panel and other participants,

China- Africa relations started in the early days of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when, Chinese ships crossed the China Sea, on route to Ceylon (today Sri Lanka), Arabia, and what are today countries of Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Madagascar.

These historical events laid the foundation of political, economic, cultural, and social, relations between Africa and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) which was established in 1949.

In late 1963 to early 1964, Premier Zhou Enlai visited 10 African countries over 55 days and articulated five principles which would guide China’s relations with Africa and eight guidelines for defining aid, all based within a context of equality, mutual benefit, and non-interference that have continued to be the framework of China’s Africa policy

The historic Bandung Conference, In April 1955 attended by 25 countries shaped the future of Afro-Asian solidarity and South-South cooperation.

Premier Zhou En Lai met with African representatives from Egypt, Ethiopia, the Gold Coast (now Ghana), Liberia, Libya, and Sudan, and Premier Zhoa built close relationship with African leaders including Nkrumah and Nasser.

Since the 40s relations between China and the ANC and SACP grew, only interrupted during the Sino- Soviet dispute.

Why did it take 30 months after the democratic transition for diplomatic relations between SA and China to be established?

The ANC led government of national unity(GNU) had to deal with the reality that apartheid South Africa and Taiwan, two pariah states, had established diplomatic relations in 1976 and thousands of leaders and members of the Nationalist Party, the Bantustans, the business community and traditional leaders were taken on expensive visits to Taiwan.

The two states had also developed relations in many areas including trade, nuclear research and weapons exchange and development. An important element of the relationship between Taipei and Pretoria was the substantial Taiwanese investments in the Bantustans. In 1994, Taiwan was South Africa’s seventh largest trading partner.

In 1992, the China’s Institute for International Relations established an office in South Africa and a South Africa Centre for Chinese Studies was established in Beijing.

When then ANC President, Nelson Mandela made his first visit to China in October 1992, the Chinese government donated money and materials worth $10 million to the ANC. After this visit, the Taiwanese offered the ANC $25 million to fight the 1994 elections.

While Madiba went to Taiwan to receive the money, then ANC Deputy President Thabo Mbeki went to Beijing to inform the Chinese that Mandela had gone to Taiwan to receive money which we desperately needed for the elections and his visit did not change the ANC’s “One China” policy.

After the unbanning of the ANC, the PAC and other organisations in 1991, and after the democratic elections in 1994, the Taiwanese intensified their cheque book diplomacy. Thousands of South Africans, including cabinet ministers, parliamentarians from all political parties, trade unions, the mass democratic movement, and NGOs were taken to Taiwan on very expensive trips. Prior to and post-1991, some of them returned to South Africa as supporters of Taiwan or supporters of a “two China” policy.

Taiwan also provided funding for the resettlement and welfare of political prisoners and exiles and it provided funding for civil society organisations.

Taiwan also provided funding to the ANC, the Nationalist Party, the IFP and other smaller parties to contest the 1994 elections. They made many promises to provide aid to the government of national unity, including $40 million for a career training Centre for former MK combatants,  support for the Reconstruction and Development Programme and a small scale farming scheme,

In 1996 the Taiwanese promised annual aid of $500 million and they signed many agreements and a memorandum of understanding, and promised $5 billion to help build a petrochemicals industry Park.

Domestic and international media, academics, and NGOs also became strong advocates of maintaining relations with Taiwan.

The majority of the members of the NEC argued that democratic South Africa should accept the international reality that more than 15O countries, including the US, had cut links with Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with China. Taiwan had been expelled from the UN, China was a permanent member of the UN Security Council and was an emerging economic power.

However, President Mandela and some leaders of the ANC and the MDM believed that it was unprincipled to desert a country, which had provided funding in times of need, had strong economic interests in South Africa and promised massive aid to the government of national unity. They believed that South Africa could be “exceptional” and successfully achieve a “Two China” policy.

In early 1994, the Chinese vice-foreign minister Zangpei, visited South Africa to deliver a letter to Mandela. In the letter Premier Jiang Zemin indicated that as soon as a new South Africa was born, the issue of the one China policy would be on the government’s agenda.

He was informed by the foreign Ministry and then deputy President Mbeki that the ANC policy of “One China” remained. However, the new government of National Unity had some members who were opposed to a one China policy and the ANC was also dealing with many political challenges, so the resolution of this matter would take some time.

After the 1994 elections, Chinese representatives continued to raise this issue but there were no undue pressures or threats. In this period there were many high level visits to Taiwan and China and visits to South Africa from China and Taiwan. Each visit ended with a clear understanding that a “Two China” policy was not sustainable. Many ANC leaders and the Ministry and Department of Foreign Affairs supported a “One China” policy. However, the advocates of a “Two China’ policy continued to motivate for their position.

In 1997 Deputy President Mbeki, in a meeting with Minister Nzo, myself and the DG Rusty Evans, informed us that ‘we have to recognise China, and we have to immediately set a process in motion to put that in place.’

By late November, President Mandela accepted that the majority of ANC and Alliance leadership were not going to change their positions on a “One China” policy and pressure from the ANC at all levels, including Parliament and Alliance structures, was growing.

On November 26th 1996 In a press conference President Mandela announced, that;

“In its international relations, South Africa has become an active participant within the ambit of the OAU and the Non-Aligned Movement as well as within the UN system.  A permanent continuation of diplomatic recognition of the Taiwan, is inconsistent with South Africa’s role in international affairs. We are now giving diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China and we are therefore downgrading relations with Taiwan.”

A committee was established to negotiate the consequences of this decision with China and Taiwan. I was appointed to chair the committee. After a series of meetings in Taipei, Beijing and Pretoria, it was confirmed that diplomatic relations with China would be established no later than December 31st,1997. A commitment was also made to severe diplomatic and all other official relations with Taiwan and close the Taiwanese embassy.

We also discussed and made provisional arrangements for South Africa’s strategic interests in Hong Kong. Until December 31,1997 the South African consulate-general in Hong Kong would operate normally, and the civil airline flights and mutual exemption of visas between SA and Hong Kong would remain unchanged. China also agreed to allow South African airlines to fly through China’s airspace en route to Japan.

In December 1998, the ministers of South Africa and China signed a communication of understanding on the establishment of diplomatic relations between South Africa and China. Accordingly, diplomatic relations officially started on January 1st 1998.

President Mandela hosted an official banquet to celebrate the historic event. In his speech President Mandela said ”All the ANC leaders except me agreed to establish diplomatic relations with China as soon as possible…Probably I was more patient than they were, since I was senior in age. As China -South African relations have been established, we must let bygones be bygones”.


Today as China emerges as one of the strongest economy in the world and because of initiatives such as BRICS, FOCAC and the One-Belt-One Road China-Africa cooperation has increased in many areas including, political, economic, education and cultural areas.

As such cooperation grows, an orchestrated negative campaign in many western countries, unfortunately also in South Africa and other African countries, has been launched against China’s role in Africa.

The allegations include that China is the new imperialist and colonialists power; it is engaged in predatory economics; it is a source of cheap labour.

Among others, it is said that its domestic human rights record and its support for Africa’s autocratic regimes on the basis of the “non-interference” principle, undermines efforts to promote democracy, good governance and human rights.

The claim is made, that there is a lack of transparency in China’s business deals – which facilitates corruption, that China is not party to codes of conduct such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative or “Publish What You Pay” in accounting for oil revenues and this compounds the problem of transparency and accountability; that China’s patterns of trade with Africa replicate and reproduce forms of neo-colonial structural dependence; China’s main imports are natural resources and primary products with little value-added while the bulk of its exports are manufactured and consumer goods.

The dumping of cheap Chinese products and the displacement of local products, is also said to have undermined nascent industrial growth and seriously affects those sectors where African countries at least had a competitive and comparative edge such as textiles, clothing, footwear, and furniture, which essentially have stagnated or experienced terminal decline.

In this regard, a related criticism, and also a refrain for China’s neo-colonial tag, has been its problematic vertical integration formula of investment, project operation, and business conduct in Africa. In terms of this formula, all inputs including management, project design, labour, materials, components, and technology are Chinese.

The recent Special National Congress decision to extend the term of office of the Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party, Dr Xi a Jinping, has been distorted to allege that dictatorship in China is being consolidated.

A few days ago the Us Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson made his first visit to Africa and he repeated many of these unsubstantiated allegations. When he returned to the United States he learnt through twitter and the media that he had been fired. He was replaced by the head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, a strong advocate of “pushing back against the Chinese Threat”.

Given the immediate foregoing, we can expect that the orchestrated campaign against China will not only continue but will take a more militaristic approach.

The orchestrated unsubstantiated allegations are an example of perception management which has become policy of most major western governments, supported by sectors of business, the media, academics, researchers, experts and think tanks. This campaign is growing at a time when we are witnessing the failure of neo-liberalism and the increasing poverty, inequality and the growing gap between the rich and the poor and in addition to the continuing militarization of US Diplomacy.

US Defence Secretary, James Mattis, speaking after the release of the US National Defence Strategy in January 2018, argued that the US was facing “growing threats from revisionist powers…China and Russia…”

The defence strategy goes on to accuse China of seeking “Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global pre-eminence in the future.” He concluded that China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbours while militarizing features in the South China Sea,”

In 2018, the US also unveiled a new first strike Nuclear Doctrine, which proposes the development of two new generations of nuclear weapons.

The Chinese government urged the U.S. government to drop its “Cold War mentality” and criticized the Trump administration’s new nuclear weapons posture. Other world leaders also expressed alarm that the new policy for expanded development of “smaller” atomic weapons and reduced restrictions on their use was leading “humankind closer to annihilation.”

The US militaristic rhetoric and preparations for the pacific pivot policy intensified and the Chinese uncharacteristically unveiled their new highly modernized first strike weapons systems. Experts hastily concluded that the new Chinese weapons made the present US systems obsolete.

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October 2017 confirmed that globalization is an economic reality, however it must be inclusive globalization. It re- emphasized the Chinese commitment to find an alternative to the western dominated neo-liberal global order. It agreed that international relations would be based on mutual respect, fairness, justice and mutually beneficial cooperation, building a global order based on a shared future for humanity, which should be open, inclusive and where there is universal security and common prosperity.

There was an understanding that Chinese peace, stability and development was not possible without regional and international peace and security. China re-emphasised the 5 Principles of Peaceful Co- Existence and proposed a new security concept of common comprehensive cooperative and sustainable security.

Today’s workshop to discuss the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between South Africa and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a good opportunity not only to refute the orchestrated negative campaign against China, but also to give context to the Chinese perspectives of inclusive globalization, its approach to security and the impact of these policies on South Africa.

Thank you


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