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South Africa: Another BRIC in China’s Wall

January 4, 2011
China's President Hu Jintao has sent an invitation to South African President Jacob Zuma to attend the third BRICs leaders' summit to be held in China. Picture: Zuma (center) celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) on December 4, 2010 in Johannesburg. (File Photo/CFP)China’s President Hu Jintao has sent an invitation to South African President Jacob Zuma to attend the third BRICs leaders’ summit to be held in China. Picture: Zuma (center) celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) on December 4, 2010 in Johannesburg. (File Photo/CFP)

 

At China’s invitation, South Africa is set to join the Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) group of emerging nations and will attend the first summit of the leading emerging economies in April this year. The group will thus be renamed the “BRICS,” but doubts remain over the suitability of the African nation to join the exclusive club of the fast-growing economies.

Lauding the Chinese decision to invite her country to the BRIC bloc, South Africa’s Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said the invitation was conveyed to her by China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. She said Chinese President Hu Jintao also sent an invitation to President Jacob Zuma to attend the third BRIC leaders’ summit to be held in China.

“China, in its capacity as rotating chair of the BRIC formation, based on agreement reached by the Bric member states, invited South Africa as a full member into what will in future be called BRICS,” Nkoana-Mashabaneb said, according to the UK-based Daily Mail and the Guardian.

 

She also said the invitation was “the best Christmas present ever.” South Africa had been lobbying hard for membership to the group and President Zuma has made state visits to all BRIC nations since he came to power.

“We bring the most diversified and most advanced economy on the continent,” Nkoana-Mashabane said. “We may not be the same size but we can open up opportunities for them and through that we can complete our economic integration on the continent.”

South Africa’s economy does not bear comparison with any of the existing BRIC members. “South Africa has an economy of US$286 billion, which is less than a quarter of that of Russia, the smallest of the BRIC nations. Its population (about 50 million) is also dwarfed by India’s 1.2 billion, Brazil’s 191 million and Russia’s 142 million,” according to Russia’s Moscow Times.

So what is the real reason for China to request South Africa to become a BRIC member? Analysts feel that “the best Christmas present ever” could really have been given by Beijing with a view to strengthening its political clout in the region.

China is South Africa’s largest trading partner and Beijing obviously wants to extend its hold over the African continent as it pushes ahead with plans to secure natural resources from untapped markets everywhere in the world, especially Africa and Latin America.

In order to create political goodwill, China has taken a far-reaching investment decision by inviting South Africa to the BRIC grouping, writes a former Indian career diplomat, MK Bhadrakumar, in Asia Times. “For one thing, China knew South Africa was interested in joining BRIC and assessed that it pays in many ways to show Beijing is prepared to go the extra league to protect its number one African partner’s interests.”

He also indicates that as long as Brazil and Russia have welcomed the inclusion of South Africa, India did not officially react to the development, though it was impossible that New Delhi would come out against South Africa’s entry. China has outsmarted both India and the US with the move, he adds.

“Beijing’s decision to bring South Africa, the heavyweight in Africa, into BRIC pre-empts the proposed US-Indian collaboration. Without doubt, both Washington and Delhi will estimate to their discomfort that the grouping’s anchor of economic logic has been unmoored. Neither expected Beijing to move so fast,” Bhadrakumar wrote.

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