Pretoria plan for mainland ties on track

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 December, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 December, 1997, 12:00am

South Africa's plan to switch diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing on New Year's Day are well in place, Pretoria's representatives in Hong Kong say.

It is more than a year since South African President Nelson Mandela shocked Taiwanese leaders by announcing that his country would sever official diplomatic ties and recognise Beijing.

Next week, Vice-Premier and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen and a large mainland delegation will visit South Africa as guests of Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo.

On Tuesday, the two foreign ministers will sign agreements taking effect on Thursday.

In Hong Kong, Consul-General Delina de Villiers-Steenkamp said once diplomatic relations had been established, the status of the South African Centre for Chinese Studies in Beijing, which had for years served as a de facto diplomatic mission, would be upgraded to that of an embassy.

Echoing previous statements by Mr Mandela, Ms de Villiers-Steenkamp stressed that South Africa aimed to keep the highest level of relations, short of official ties, with Taiwan.

She anticipated that liaison offices, scheduled to represent South African interests in Taiwan after January 1, would continue to make travel documents available to Taiwanese travelling to South Africa.

If there was any objection to this arrangement, she speculated that South African Airways' offices in Taiwan might be called upon to issue visas.

'We are keen that our relations with Taiwan continue as closely as possible. We definitely would not want to disrupt the current traffic,' she said.

Both South Africa and the mainland were making huge strides as their developing economies grew.

Ms de Villiers-Steenkamp compared South Africa's push for a greater profile in representing African interests in the international arena with the mainland's seeking of an increased role on the Asian stage.

She added that South Africa, emerging from the apartheid era, was 'not in a position to be pointing fingers' when it came to pressing mainland leaders on human rights.