China-South Africa diplomatic partnership fuels BRICS expansion efforts

China’s President Xi is currently in South Africa on a three-day state visit for a BRICS summit.

China-South Africa diplomatic partnership fuels BRICS expansion efforts
President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa gesture during the 2023 BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa on August 23, 2023. GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/Pool via REUTERS

The backstory: There's a group called BRICS, which is currently made up of five countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. They came together to give a bigger voice to developing nations and counter the influence of the US in the world. At one point, they even thought about using a common currency to counter the US dollar, but that hasn’t gone through yet.

It's no secret that diplomatic relations between China and the US and other Western countries have become strained over the last year over several different issues like tech competition, Taiwan and the war in Ukraine. With that, China started looking to build stronger ties with countries in the Global South like Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. China has also set its sights on expanding the five-nation group.

More recently: Speaking of China's connections, it's essential to note how pivotal its role is in South Africa's economy. Trade between the two amounted to US$56.3 billion in 2022, with significant exports heading to China. Also, China’s been helping South Africa tackle its power crisis by assisting in setting up a solar energy project.

Last week, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed support for expanding the BRICS group of emerging market powers. According to Ramaphosa, more than 20 nations have asked to join, including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Egypt. India has also given a green light to expanding the group.

The development: China’s President Xi is currently in South Africa on a three-day state visit for a BRICS summit. This is the leader’s second international trip this year. During a joint press conference with South African President Ramaphosa, Xi emphasized the importance of collaboration among countries in the Global South on the international stage. He also praised South Africa's role in the G20 and highlighted the strong partnership between China and South Africa. Xi also mentioned that the BRICS expansion process should be accelerated.

President Xi's talks also touched on deepening bilateral cooperation between China and South Africa in areas like energy and technology. He restated his nation’s commitment to encourage Chinese companies to invest and operate within South Africa's borders.

Key comments:

“We will urge the international community to refocus on development issues, promote a greater role by the BRICS cooperation mechanism in global governance, and make the voice of BRICS stronger,” China’s President Xi Jinping said.

“Xi Jinping is not trying to out-compete America in the existing liberal international order dominated by the US. His long-term goal is to change the world order into a Sino-centric one,” said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London.

“The traditional global governance system appears to be out of order, incapacitated and absent. The international community is eagerly looking forward to the BRICS to…play a leading role,” China’s ambassador to South Africa Chen Xiaodong told reporters.

“An expanded BRICS will represent a diverse group of nations which share a common desire to have a more balanced world order,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in a TV address to the nation on Sunday.

“Our bilateral relationship with our largest trading partner is almost as old as our democracy,” said Ramaphosa. “South Africa has a great deal to learn from China’s development path. Among other achievements, China has lifted nearly 800 million people out of poverty over a 40-year period.”