South Africa seeking greater trade with China without colonial dependency
The two countries sign few agreements but show much interest in one another. To counter charges of economic colonialism, Hu promises greater imports from Africa. President Mbeki says he and Hu are working for a solution to the Darfur crisis.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – So far few agreements but a lot of good will between China and South Africa where Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived yesterday. For his South African hosts, the visit is a good opportunity to discuss ways to increase trade without becoming economically dependent.

Yesterday, at the end of his meeting with his Chinese counterpart South African President Thabo Mbeki announced the two governments had signed agreements on the export of South African fruit to China, energy and minerals co-operation.

Both stressed the importance of the relationship between Africa’s biggest economy and the Asian juggernaut, which Mbeki called “one of our most critical, most important economic partners globally.”

In the press conference that followed the meeting between the two leaders, Hu said he had discussed the Darfur issue with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir but reiterated China’s longstanding view that “China does not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs”.

For his part, Mbeki said he and Hu were working for a speedy end to the Darfur crisis based on a UN Security Council resolution to deploy a 22,500-strong UN peacekeeping force to Darfur, a measure which Khartoum has rejected as an attempt at Western colonisation.

In a speech late last year, South African President Thabo Mbeki warned that Africa needs to be on its guard against allowing a “colonial relationship” to develop with Beijing. Many in Africa fear that the Chinese powerhouse might end up dominating African countries.

One of example of this danger is Namibian authorities’ decision to exempt Chinese companies from minimum wages and labour laws.

But Namibian “workers bitterly complain about slave-like and exploitative labour practices, while Namibian consumers have expressed deep concern about the import and dumping of cheap and unreliable Chinese products in the country,” Namibia's National Society for Human Rights said in a statement.

In Namibia on Monday Hu announced development aid for the country rich in diamonds and minerals such as uranium, zinc and cobalt.

Speaking before a gathering of some 1,500 people at the University of Pretoria, Mr Hu answered charges that China was flooding African markets with its own goods, undermining local industry, by promising that China would increase its imports from Africa.

South African trade unions have complained that Chinese textile imports have forced local firms to go under, costing some 100,000 jobs in the domestic industry.

Although this forced both governments to agree last year to restrict Chinese textile imports by a third, both governments remain interested in a free trade agreement.

Aziz Pahad, South Africa’s deputy foreign minister, earlier said Pretoria would push to cut China’s US$ 3 billion trade surplus with South Africa.

Chinese firms are involved in a number of mining operations (platinum, nickel and chrome ore) and in manufacturing.

Some experts also point out that whilst China has offered low-interest loans to many African countries, South Africa is not among them. Pretoria for its part is unwilling to serve its natural resources on a silver platter and is more interested in encouraging capital investment and ensuring that its own industrial base is not weakened by cheap Chinese imports.

David Monyae, an international relations lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said that China was a potential source of growth for several of South Africa's highly industrialised sectors but warned that “most African countries are negotiating with China from a position of weakness in all respects.” (PB)