JOHANNESBURG, Aug 22 – South Africa\’s President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday makes an official visit to China to broaden ties with the emerging superpower which is fast becoming a top investor in Africa.
The visit is seen as an opportunity to harness shared interests, with no begging bowl in hand.
Trade between China and Africa\’s biggest economy has been growing since 1998, and Beijing last year overtook the United States as South Africa\’s largest export destination.
"Trade statistics with China continue to reflect the potential that still exists for expanding the commercial relationship," the foreign ministry said ahead of the visit.
Bilateral trade grew two percent last year to 119.7 billion rand (16.3 billion dollars, 12.9 billion dollars), driven by Chinese demand for raw materials.
Beijing has also unveiled a series of major investments since ploughing 5.5 billion dollars into South Africa\’s Standard Bank nearly three years ago.
In May, Chinese companies reached a deal to build a 217-million-dollar cement plant and invest 877 million dollars to take control of a small South African mining company and build a new platinum mine.
With just over a year since Zuma took office, the trip will round out his tour of the BRIC emerging economies — Brazil, Russia, India and China — where he has urged partnerships, trade and investment.
It\’s a club of top emerging markets that South Africa would like to join, though its own economy has grown far slower than its BRIC peers.
"South Africa is trying to solidify relations with other emerging countries. It is a strategic move to strengthen ties with the major developing countries known as the BRIC club," said Martyn Davies, chief executive of Frontier Advisory.
"As the largest economy in the continent, South Africa is punching below its weight when in comes to global economic platforms like the G8. So there is a need to collaborate with other emerging economies, not collide with them," added Davies.
All over Africa, Chinese firms are involved in large infrastructure developments projects, buying out cash-strapped entities and supplying strategic aid to countries in conflict.
A 23-billion-dollar refinery deal in major oil exporter Nigeria is China\’s biggest single investment in Africa, but even poor nations like Zambia have won Beijing\’s help in propping up the mining industry.
The scramble for African assets has been viewed as another colonisation of the continent, with unclear lines between aid and investment.
But business consultancy firm McKinsey said in a recent report that China\’s role in Africa is dynamic.
The report raised concern about China\’s support for countries like Sudan and Zimbabwe, as well as its questionable worker safety rules.
"However, the evidence suggests that many Africans welcome the involvement of China not only because of the scale of its resources and commitments but also because it has credibility," said the report.
"The Chinese see themselves as a developing country, a view shared by many Africans".
Zuma will visit China from Tuesday to Thursday, meeting Premier Wen Jiabao and touring the World Expo in Shanghai.