Since 1994, South Africa's foreign policy has been successful in establishing strategic relations with a number of Asian countries to strengthen and promote its political, social and economic interests, through multilateral engagements and bilateral relations. However South Africa is yet to fully explore strategic relations in Southeast Asia. This may be linked to the fact that the current outlook of South Africa's relations with Asia is widely dominated by the focus on Sino-South African relations. Noticeably China is now South Africa's number one trade partner but the focus on China has generally overshadowed South Africa's diplomatic engagement with other Asian nations.
On 15-19 September 2014, the Department of Trade and Industry will be undertaking an outward selling mission to Indonesia and Singapore to assist South African producers and exporters in the field of Agro-processing, cosmetics, Automotive parts and Yachts to introduce their products into foreign markets. The outward trade mission is part of the dti's objective to create market access for South African value-added products and services in new high-growth markets, and highlight South Africa as an investment destination of choice.1
This type of mission is what South Africa needs to encourage not only with regard to Indonesia and Singapore, but also with the Southeast Asia region as a whole, to explore potential areas for future investment and developmental cooperation, and also to promote people to people interaction. Indonesia and Singapore are some of the Asian nations with which South Africa shares historical and strategic relations from both a political and economic perspective. As of 2013, Singapore became South Africa's number one trade export destination in Southeast Asia, while Indonesia claimed twelve position. In terms of imports in 2013, Singapore ranked number two behind Thailand while Indonesia remained at number twelve. In this regard, the DTI's 'outward selling mission' in concert with the visits by a South African delegation to the region last year to promote trade, investment and to boost other forms of cooperation, is necessary and essential for South Africa to increase its footprint in the Southeast Asia region.
Moreover, Indonesia and Singapore are both member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional bloc which is set to be integrated into an economic community by 2015. It is anticipated that when ASEAN is integrated it will have an influential impact in the region's economic activities within and outside the borders of the region. For South Africa, while trying to boost relations with individual states in the Southeast Asia, it is significant to also establish a strategic approach and position on how to conduct relations with ASEAN. Building South Africa- ASEAN relation can be advantageous, first to promote cooperation between SADC and ASEAN, as currently these two regions do not have formal cooperation. Secondly, this cooperation can be used to strengthen the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership soon to be formally launched in 2015
Consequently, South Africa's relations in the Southeast Asia tend to be more politically oriented with less is yet to result in a more tangible economic benefit. As a result South Africa must continue to explore missed opportunities, identify new opportunities and initiate action of utilizing current benefits of South East Asian ties.
Mr. Kenny Dlamini holds a BA Hons in Political & International Studies from Rhodes University and is a research assistant at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD
1 Department of Trade and Industry