With a large delegation – 400 business executives and 11 cabinet ministers – South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma is visiting China.  Just yesterday, (August 24th)  South Africa signed some 10 deals – though the value of these agreements was not revealed.  The deals were all in the resources and energy sectors and appeared to further augment the resource-based focus of China’s trade and investment with South  Africa.  Last year China imported some $6.57 billion of goods almost entirely made up of natural resources (see Jamil Anderlini, “Pretoria defends China’s African policy,” FT.com, (August, 24, 2010).       

There is a chorus of complaint that China - like advanced economies before it - targets South Africa as a source of raw materials – what we Canadians refer to as - hewers of wood and drawers of water – and all that.  Notwithstanding this principal focus, South Africa’s trade minister felt it necessary to defend South Africa’s China attentions and to see the attention as valuable and likely to increase competition between developed and developing countries for these resources.  It may well do that and as long as the minister is not concerned about some personal gain from such favor I suppose the there is something to be said for the South African attention to Chinese investment and trade. 

What seems odd – though in the context of South African politics maybe not – the Minister seemed impelled to defend China’s trade relationship declaring it not to be a neocolonial policy.  The Minister even went further and suggested that those critics from Europe and the United States that painted China’s policy as neocolonialist did so because “it takes one to know one.”  Now that posture seems foolish.  If neocolonialist is a useful label at all – and I’m not sure it is – it would be far better to look at the trade relationship going forward.  South Africa has for some time been urging China to establish manufacturing in South Africa to help balance the highly unbalanced trade.  China’s investment in manufacturing could well establish a more balanced policy.  Failing that it is not clear that there is any choice between the old colonialists and potentially the new ones.

One further matter of note is the ‘request’ by President Zuma to his Chinese partners to have South Africa become the next BRIC.   The problem is that it is not clear who decides who is in the club.  A strange issue but maybe President Zuma should reference Goldman Sachs. 

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