South African President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for an official state visit, full of pomp and ceremony, on the side of the BRICS summit on Tuesday. Xi was greeted in Pretoria with a 21-gun salute as the two countries marked 25 years of diplomatic relations.
Ramaphosa welcomed Xi warmly, recalling how Beijing supported South Africa’s struggle against apartheid and calling the relationship between the two a “very special” one.
He noted that China is South Africa’s biggest global trade partner, with some $32 billion in bilateral trade last year, but stressed a trade imbalance in China’s favor needs addressing.
“As South Africa, we would like to see the significant trade deficit narrowed and this visit is an opportunity for us to look at ways to do so,” Ramaphosa said.
South Africa is currently in the throes of a major energy crisis, with its economy being hit hard by almost-daily blackouts. Ramaphosa thanked China for donating emergency power equipment and for a grant of approximately $26 million as development assistance.
“Energy cooperation with China is a recent development that we look to deepen, particularly in line with our respective commitments to low-carbon, climate resilient development,” he said.
Ramaphosa confirmed South Africa’s commitment to the One-China policy, and noted that Pretoria and Beijing shared a similar position in supporting the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ukraine.
For his part, Xi noted the two nations share a strong bond, “as comrades and brothers.”
Paul Nantulya, a China expert at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, said while China is the world’s second largest economy, it has always projected itself as a fellow developing country.
“It would like Global South countries to see it as a developing country and that becomes particularly important in terms of providing a counter-weight to what it sees as a western and a U.S. dominated international order and international system,” Nantulya said.
Several memorandums of understanding were signed during the state visit, including agreements on direct investment, the digital economy, the export of avocados, and the development of industrial parks and special economic zones.
The two nations also agreed to step up cooperation on tourism and education.
Later Tuesday, the BRICS Summit of emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – gets into full swing. All the BRICS country leaders are in attendance save for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will be taking part remotely.
Expansion of the bloc is expected to dominate the agenda of the summit, which ends on Thursday.