China and South Africa vowed to make their relationship a diplomatic priority and tackle trade imbalances as they signed a series of deals on deepening co-operation following talks between President Xi Jinping and his counterpart Jacob Zuma.
In a joint declaration released after the talks yesterday, they said the Sino-South African relationship was "vibrant and important". It said the leaders had "agreed to put Sino-African ties as the priority … of their nations' foreign affairs policy".
Xi arrived in the South African capital of Pretoria yesterday before heading to Durban for a summit between the five major emerging economies.
South Africa is the third stop of Xi's maiden diplomatic trip as head of state, after Russia and Tanzania. But his visit to Africa has been marred by controversy over China's presence in the continent, with critics saying that Beijing is exploiting Africa for natural resources, and that Chinese firms have violated labour laws and refused to hire local workers.
The joint declaration vowed to improve the structure of trade and support technological transfer, industrial financing and bilateral investment.
Xi and Zuma said they would also monitor the implementation of projects in trade, investment, basic infrastructure, energy, communication, agriculture and human resources.
In his talks with Zuma yesterday, Xi said China would encourage Chinese firms and financial institutions to participate in basic infrastructure, coal mining, energy and the car industry, adding that "China will promote bilateral co-operation based on a mutually beneficial principle".
Xi made similar remarks in Tanzania, where he stressed that China would work alongside African countries in adopting practical measures to solve problems in trade and economic co-operation.
Trade between China and South Africa reached about US$60 billion last year, nearly a third of total China-Africa trade.
Dr Mzukisi Qobo, a senior lecturer in political science at the University of Pretoria, said South Africa was keen to diversify its trade with China, as almost 60 per cent of bilateral trade comprised iron ore exports to China. However, he said that could not be fixed in the near future.
Besides trade, both nations said they would step up co-operation in the United Nations and the BRICS bloc - which includes Brazil, Russia and India - to promote a just international order.