From Taiwan to Sanya, South Africa received a little help from Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 April, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong played a role in establishing diplomatic relations between China and South Africa, six months after the 1997 handover, according to a former deputy foreign minister.

Ji Peiding, the head of Beijing's de facto embassy in Pretoria in 1994, when Nelson Mandela won South Africa's first post-apartheid election, wrote in his 2007 memoir that it took almost four more years to establish diplomatic relations because of the hurdle posed by Taiwan's long-standing ties with Pretoria.

Just weeks before the 1994 election, Taiwan gave US$11 million to Mandela's African National Congress, Ji said. In gratitude, Mandela decided to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, despite entreaties from mainland diplomats.

The turning point came, however, with the approach of Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty in July 1997. Ji said Pretoria's continued recognition of Taipei put its consulate in Hong Kong in jeopardy because it did not recognise Beijing's sovereignty over the special administrative region.

To protect South Africa's interests, he said a 'flexible solution' was agreed to, with a six-month grace period allowing the consulate to operate normally until the two countries established diplomatic ties on January 1, 1998.

Despite the belated start, the bilateral relationship has grown fast and generated amazing numbers. According to Chinese customs data, bilateral trade surged more than 11-fold in the first 10 years of diplomatic ties, rising from US$1.56 billion in 1998 to US$17.85 billion in 2008.

South African President Jacob Zuma visited China last year during a tour of the four BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India and China. South Africa was invited to join the foursome in December and Zuma will return to China this week for today's BRICS summit in Sanya.

South Africa's ambassador to Beijing, Bheki Langa, says Zuma will head a large delegation, including 80 South African business leaders.

Mutual benefits

The factor by which China-South Africa trade grew after Pretoria withdrew its diplomatic recognition of Taipei: 11