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China's Relationship Status with South Africa: "It's Complicated"


South Africa’s relationship with China has undergone a profound transformation in a remarkably short period of time. In less than twenty years, these two countries have gone from barely acknowledging one another to developing a deep partnership that transcends economics, politics and ideology.

Pretoria’s recent public backing of Beijing’s position in the bitter territorial dispute in the South China Sea highlights how these two countries have widened their engagement with one another, far beyond that of any other African country. Economically, South Africa is among the top destinations for Chinese investment in Africa. Politically, the two countries are now more aligned than ever on sensitive issues like internet freedom, international justice and even the Dalai Lama. It’s in the ideological sphere, though, that the two countries have evolved the most in recent years.

China’s ties with South Africa now extend beyond the state-level to an increasingly close embrace between the countries’ two ruling parties, the African National Congress and the Chinese Communist Party. The ANC and the CCP now have a parallel engagement track that is seemingly entirely separate from that of the day-to-day state-led diplomacy between the two countries. In many ways, the ANC appears to be modeling itself on the Chinese Communist Party and how the CCP have fused together state and party power as means of ensuring indefinite political dominance.

Alison Bradley is a China-specialist and South African native who recently published a paper in the Journal of Contemporary China on the state of Sino-South African ties. In her analysis “China and South Africa: Emerging Powers in an Uncomfortable Embrace,” Alison argues that on the surface things may look tight between the Chinese and South Africans, but dig a little and the situation is much more complicated. Alison joins Eric & Cobus to discuss why China’s engagement in South Africa is among the most varied and complex of any its ties in Africa.

Show Notes:

About Alison Bradley
Alison Bradley is a seasoned communications professional focused on international public affairs. Alison’s experience includes directing a public diplomacy campaign to enhance bilateral relations between China and the United States. She has organized and led over 15 delegations to China for former US Senators and House Members, as well as senior editors and columnists. She holds a Master’s degree from the George Washington University; and a Bachelor’s Degree from New York University. Alison has lived in seven countries on four continents. This article was written when Alison Bradley was completing her Masters in International Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs of George Washington University.

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