In the past few months, the South African government made significant visits to a number of Asian countries in a quest to strengthen strategic bilateral relations. This also includes hosting some of the Asian countries’ representatives from business and civil society sectors, to the level of Ministerial meetings and Head of States conventions.
An overview of the recent activities can be traced back to June when the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms Mfeketo, together with the South African government delegation visited the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to discuss the objective of their bilateral relations and significant ways to maximise existing opportunities. This also includes the South Africa-Japan cooperation in Science and Technology meeting which took place in August. The most recent is South Africa’s bilateral engagement with China in Beijing early September, the most talked about relations at the moment. This is because 2015 is the year of China in South Africa, and also the fact that South Africa will be hosting the Second Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in December.
While China dominates the coverage and analysis of South Africa’s foreign relations with Asia, it is imperative to recognise the importance of other Asian countries’ relations with South Africa and how these relations can be taken further to strengthen its foreign policy footprint in building strategic relations. Significantly, these kind of relations do not only promote the aspirations of the South African Foreign Policy’s principles of South-South Cooperation, it also compliments South Africa’s objectives and desires to increase economic growth and sustainable development as envisaged in the National Development Pan 2030; which is to create a capable developmental state, eliminate poverty and reduce inequality. Since 1994, trade between South Africa and most of the Asian countries has increased. Apart from those already in the bigger picture such as China, Japan, Russia, India, Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia; states such as Vietnam, Singapore, People’s Republic of Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines to name a few, create a vital weight in South Africa’s export and import index, and socio-economic development . For instance, South Africa’s relations with these countries focus more on socio-economic ties in important sectors such as creating job opportunities and skills development, transfer of technology, rural development and the beneficiation of minerals and energy.
While South Africa pushes for greater and strategic relations with the Asian countries, this will also play an advantageous role in strengthening the New Asian- African Strategic Partnership (NAASP), an initiative to foster better relations among Asian and African countries. South Africa and Indonesia are at the forefront in driving this initiative to become an official multilateral structure for Asia-Africa relations. This is advocated in the South African Foreign Policy’s principles of South-South cooperation, and as stated by South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa on the occasion of the Asia-Africa Business Summit in Jakarta, April 2015, that by strengthening South-South cooperation, we (Africa and Asia) can begin a new era in global trade – one that will be driven and sustained by two of the world’s fastest-growing regions. Thus, for South Africa this means that strengthening bilateral relations with Asian countries will serve as an impetus in the formalisation of the NAASP initiative, a process that is long overdue. Finally, South Africa stands to benefit more in terms of achieving its foreign policy objectives when the NAASP is formalised, as this will provide a concrete framework of how South Africa can pursue relations with Asia based on its domestic, regional and continental interests.