China has been South Africa’s biggest Trade Partner over the last decade. Now, China is also South Africa’s single biggest investor.
The Countries deepening ties come amid Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt & Road Initiative and a global push for the Chinese telecom company Huawei to dominate 5G development throughout the whole of Africa.
Last year, South Africa signed an astounding 93 strategic economic and trade deals with China, worth over $1.7 billion, all of which are aimed at boosting the former’s slow economic growth and the latter’s ambitions to be the dominant foreign power in Africa.
The deal is part of China’s growing presence in South Africa, a development that significantly more far-reaching consequences.
The Chinese Communist Party sees South Africa, with its robust development, infrastructure and geographic location, as the main gateway to the rest of the continent.
The United States has repeatedly warned its South African and the rest of its allies in the region that China is actively using its investments and major infrastructure projects to both economically and politically infiltrate the many nations on the African continent; moves that amount to no-less than a Chinese form of colonialism in Africa.
As the coronavirus crisis has shed more light on China’s penchant for secrecy, cover-ups, and propaganda, Beijing is seeking to expand its list of allies, particularly in areas where the US and the rest of the West are drawing down their presence as major players.
China and South Africa are cooperating on military exercises with China’s other ally, Russia, and South African police are currently being trained in China. It is shocking to detect that under mandatory directions the SAPS (South African Police Services) are now obliged to learn Mandarin in a country that has 12 official languages just to accommodate the Chinese communities.
None of this comes as a surprise for those who monitor China’s post-corona foreign policy moves, particularly when taking into consideration that South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa and his political party, the African National Congress, or ANC, are known to be long-time staunch supporters of the Chinese Communist Party.
In May of this year, during a phone call with Ramaphosa, Chinese President Xi Jinping noted that South Africa and China are “good brothers” and that Beijing will continue to be the main foreign supporter of South Africa’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Both President Xi and Ramaphosa have regularly reaffirmed that their two nations are “major developing countries”, as well as close partners, as members of the UN Security Council, the BRICS and the G20.
The Chinese Communist Party and the ANC also regularly emphasise that both sides should step up their strategic consultations and cooperation on not only a bilateral, but also on a multilateral, level, in order to tackle the spread of COVID-19, but also to better synchronise their mutual interests in Africa and on a global level.
The main question that arises for South African citizens and certain outside observers is, ‘who is getting what, out of the increasingly robust Chinese presence in Africa?’
At present, an estimated 85% of what China buys from South Africa are minerals and metals, while Beijing mostly sells cheap manufactured goods to South Africa. Shockingly, there are now around half a million Chinese nationals living in South Africa, nearly all of whom arrived in the last 20 years ago as economic migrants from mainland China.
What has changed recently, however, is that those small Chinese entrepreneurs, who made up the bulk of the immigrants coming to work in South Africa, are now being replaced by major Chinese state-owned enterprises, nearly all of which are closely linked to the Chinese Communist Party or China’s powerful intelligence services, chief among these is Chinese tech giant, Huawei.
South Africa 5G infrastructure is being developed by Huawei, despite numerous reports from Western intelligence agencies which have warned about the company’s cybersecurity problems and Huawei’s alleged links to the Ministry of State Security (MSS), China’s Main Security Service. In recent years, dozens of cases have become public through various reports that have detected “significant technical issues” in Huawei’s “unique software engineering and cyber security processes.”
A May 2019 decision by the the US government to add Huawei to its trade blacklist, amid concerns that its 5G equipment enables the Chinese government to spy on other nations, has not deterred the South African government.
Despite the obvious red flags, Ramaphosa has repeatedly slammed the US for pushing its allies to drop Huawei’s 5G technology and has indicated that he supports Huawei’s claims that it operates independently from the Chinese Communist Party.
The South African government has also failed to acknowledge that all Chinese companies working abroad are required to adhere to Chinese laws, which compel the firms to fully cooperate with the MSS if they hope to continue to do business outside of China.
Beijing has taken its efforts in South Africa one step further by buying the South African media’s silence, in ways that are similar to the gag orders and state censorship practices that are the order of the day in China.
The international community and human rights organisations are keenly aware that Chinese whistle-blowers are summarily punished by the authorities for speaking out. However, now journalists in South Africa are being threatened.
A South African columnist who worked for a media company that is partially owned by Chinese state-linked investors was recently fired after he questioned China’s internment of its Uyghur Minority into concentration camps scattered throughout western China.