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Subject Pivoting to Russia, China and anti-US paranoia: South Africa’s foreign policy shifts
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Original Message Pivoting to Russia, China and anti-US paranoia: South Africa’s foreign policy shifts

By GPD on August 28, 2015

Dr. Heinrich Matthee[1]

President Jacob Zuma of South Africa is to attend China’s victory parade on September 2 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender at the end of the Second World War. Meanwhile, the leaders of Japan, the US and the UK said they would not attend because they were concerned at a show of military force at a time of regional tensions.

Zuma’s visit reflects a broader shift in South Africa’s foreign policy in favour of Russia and China. The foreign policy section in a recent discussion document of Zuma’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) also reflects this shift.[2]

Entitled A Better Africa in a Better and Just World[3], the text was drawn up by a panel of foreign policy heavyweights chaired by Deputy Minister in the Presidency Obed Bapela.[4] The document and related steps by the ANC are covered under three themes:

In which ways are the ANC looking towards China for symbolic and economic leadership? Which new deals with Russia have emerged on nuclear energy, arms trade and intelligence training? What are the indicators of a stronger anti-Western bias and ideology, also regarding the US African Command?

Due to political factionalism and economic policy failures, the ANC has become more reliant on foreign patrons. The shift in foreign policy also coincides with the shift to a hybrid regime under Zuma’s ANC. The locus of politics in South Africa has shifted from accountable democratic institutions to a field of power in which weakened democratic institutions and non-democratic institutions interact.[5]

Looking to China for symbolic and economic leadership

The ANC policymakers concludes: “China [sic] economic development trajectory remains a leading example of the triumph of humanity over adversity. The exemplary role of the collective leadership of the Communist Party of China in this regard should be a guiding lodestar of our own struggle.

The ANC leadership has come to view China as the model for national development and that country’s Communist rulers worthy of emulation. The ANC claims, in language that even Chinese regime mouthpieces do not even use nowadays, that “the US, backed by its ideological apparatus, has tried a repeat of the Tiananmen Square against the Chinese government by parading to the world counter revolution as a popular uprising and counter revolutionaries as human rights activists.”

The ANC is establishing a Political School and Policy Institute at Venterskroon, and decided to specifically cooperate with the Chinese Communist Party[6]. The ANC government also signed a deal with the Chinese government on cooperation related to internet infrastructure and cyber-security.[7]

These event occurred while the Chinese record on political pluralism and its limiting of citizens’ access to undesirable news from the outside and social media is widely criticized by Western powers.[8] China also assists the ANC government at the UN in obstructing or delaying the request of minority group NGOs to gain observer status at some UN structures for NGOs.

China is now South Africa’s top trade partner with 21.9 billion, compared to $6.0 bn with the US, $4.7 bn with Japan, and $4.1 bn with the UK and Germany each. According to Mills Soko, political economist at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, the ANC government is treating China as a unique strategic partner. “The government’s refusal to raise tariffs on cheap steel imports from China suggests that it will prioritise its relationship with China at the expense of domestic interests.”

A “five- to 10-year strategic programme” between China and South Africa, signed during a visit to China by President Jacob Zuma in 2014, laid out specific aims on working together on state-owned enterprises. Higher-level executives at South African state-owned enterprises (SOEs) will be educated at the Chinese Academy of Governance in Beijing.[9]

Choosing Russia against “US-sponsored destabilisation”

The ANC discussion document claims there is a concerted effort to destabilise Russia:

The US does not appreciate the resurgence of China and Russia as dominant factors in the arena of international power relations. It has instead declared a cold war against these two emerging world powers… Russia has not been spared the wrath of US-led Western imperialism. As with China, the Russian leadership is constantly being portrayed in the Western media and official discourse as monsters abusing human rights. As with China, counter revolutionary demonstrations and marches are being staged and given huge publicity in the Western media in order to destabilize and/provoke the Russian government… Whatever genuine concerns may exist within the Russian population and populations of former Soviet Union, there is a clear plot to exploit this in order to contain the rise of Russia globally. It is an encirclement strategy that seeks to isolate Russia in the manner that is being attempted on China as well…

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