A delegate walks past a BRICS logo ahead of the 10th BRICS Summit, in Sandton, South Africa, July 24, 2018.
A delegate walks past a BRICS logo ahead of the 10th BRICS Summit, in Sandton, South Africa, July 24, 2018.

JOHANNESBURG - China, the wealthiest member of the bloc of nations known as BRICS, is looking to further improve its international position as the group holds its annual summit in South Africa this week.

President Xi Jinping made a state visit to summit host South Africa a day before the start of the three summit on Wednesday.

Xi, who was unanimously elected by China's parliament to a new, limitless presidential term in March, praised China's 20-year diplomatic relationship with South Africa, as part of what appears to be a push to strengthen all of China's relationships.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, inspects the
Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, inspects the honor guard during an official welcoming ceremony at the government's Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, July 24, 2018.

In his interpreted comments, Xi praised the relationship, which he said encompassed infrastructure, trade, investment, science and technology initiatives, and invited South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for a state visit in September.

Ramaphosa reciprocated, saying in brief comments to assembled press:

"The dynamism of the partnership between China and South Africa derives from a common desire to develop our bilateral relationship. And in fact, our common view is that the relationship between the two countries in many ways has gone beyond just being a bilateral relationship. It is a very strategic relationship which touches on a number of issues where we cooperate extremely well together for the mutual benefit of our two peoples."

And the two put a value on that relationship, signing various economic and investment agreements worth $14 billion.

Preparing for trade war
But not all of China's relationships are so rosy as Xi prepares for this year's summit of the five BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The summit comes amid a rapidly shifting world order, one that has China as the main target of a brewing trade war, in which U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening to impose tariffs on all $505 billion worth of Chinese imports.

In response, China has said it will seek to build cooperation with other nations, like those in BRICS, where it is on more comfortable ground, according to China-Africa analyst Cobus Van Staden

"Everyone who is actually involved would strenuously deny that there is a pecking order," he told VOA. "But I think also, the weight of the Chinese economy, the weight of China as an actor in the world, is significant; you can't talk around that,"

Van Staden says other global developments — like the relationship between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian Vladimir Putin — could also affect this year's summit deliberations. Putin is expected at the summit.
"This is definitely a very weird year," Van Staden said. "There's going to be a lot of other weirdness in the room as well, including tensions between China and India around the Belt and Road initiative. India is not very happy, but has not come out actively opposed to it. So that's another part of the tensions in the room."