BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) accounted for nearly a quarter (23 percent) of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2016. The cohort of countries was also responsible for 16 percent of global trade, 16 percent of total foreign investment and 12 percent of outbound investment.

Trade among the five countries was worth $300 billion last year.

On September 4 and 5, leaders from BRICS countries met in Xiamen for the 9th instalment of the BRICS Summit where SA once again participated in extending South-South co-operation. 

In addition to its growing influence over the global economy, the countries together make up nearly 27 percent of the world’s land mass and nearly 43 percent of the world’s population.

BRICS and its New Development Bank (which has an office in Johannesburg) is envisioned to break the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s hegemony, the latter policies have had detrimental effects in the developing world.  

Those Bretton Woods institutions have ruled over the world’s economy with a bias towards so-called first-world countries.

BRICS and the NDB is seen as a threat to this dominance and is often attacked by proponents of neo-liberal economics, accusing the Brics construct of the same.

Others point to the skewed balance of power – China being the dominant player, economically – they have been criticized within the BRICS construct by a few of their bedfellows of undervaluing the yuan on purpose.

The Chinese continue to be accused of neo-colonialism and its vision for a ‘One Belt One Road’ trade route – which would link Beijing overland to Europe and its coastal cities in the South to Africa, further amplifies that chorus of China naysayers.

Admiration is reserved in many quarters about the Chinese, but their economic might and between 700 and 800 million middle-class citizens cannot be ignored.

That country’s growth and continued development has been nothing short of staggering. 

In 1978, citizens of the People’s Republic of China aspired to owning three things: a bicycle, a television set and a sewing machine.

Social convention held that if you could acquire these, you were, in some regards, ready to get married.

Fast-forward 39 years and the Chinese dream has evolved significantly – it has the second biggest economy in terms of nominal GDP and its currency, the renminbi, has been accepted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a world currency.

As one China observer noted: “The country’s integration into the global market system, the rise of a consumer-orientated middle class, and its outward-bound commodity forays to support both domestic and international consumption make China a dominant player in global capitalism.”

China is South Africa’s largest trading partner and in December 2015 committed a further R94 billion to South Africa during the historic Forum on China-Africa Co-Operation (FOCAC) in Johannesburg.

The 26 agreements signed off on at FOCAC included co-operation between entities in both the public and private sectors. 

The South African government views its relationship with China not just one that is based solely on trade, it sees it as a partnership that is aligned to the country’s development goals. 

China, on the other hand, regards South Africa as a key partner in advancing its relations with the African continent.

This is seen in the context of investments the Chinese have made in South Africa over the past few years and the value such investments have had on the South African economy. 

South Africa’s relations with China have gone from strength to strength, in the short space of 15 years. 

It’s hard to believe that bilateral trade volume was about R12 billion when the diplomatic relationship was first established in the late 1990s.

China’s economic strength and its continued influence of world trade and markets continues to fuel skepticism among those who are more comfortable with traditional centres of economic power holding sway.

Mainstream history also continues to underplay or completely ignore the role of record breakers and visionaries who were not from the West. 

Chinese explorer Zheng He, for example, first set foot on African soil more than 600 years ago – several decades before Western explorers arrived on the continent.

This is at least one example of a largely untold slice of history, which continues to be overshadowed by an entrenched system of learning and information skewed toward stories telling mostly of Western explorers and their achievements.

The Chinese have a 5000-year history that is largely anathema to most people outside of it, but its economic rise has given birth to a new narrative, one that is rooted in doing business with not only established centres of capital, but those emerging nations looking for win-win co-operation. 

Reports by the China National Tourism Administration and the United Nations World Tourism Organisation show Chinese tourists have travelled and outspent the US and other developed countries.

Chinese travellers accounted for a record 120 million trips overseas in 2015, which means that one in every 10 international travellers was from China.

The South African government has not been an idle participant in the relationship between the two countries.

Ahead of FOCAC, the South African government, told their Chinese counterparts in the trade ministry that South Africa would like to see a reduction in the dominance of raw materials in its export basket to China. 

As part of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement, China committed to encourage its enterprises to increase investment in South Africa’s manufacturing industry and promoting the creation of value-added activities; explore co-operation opportunities in infrastructure projects such as roads, railways, ports, power generation, and airports.  

China also agreed to increase its source of value added products from South Africa. South Africa is no one’s doormat, but the government will continue to engage partners across the economic spectrum.

South Africa’s partnership with china remains a principled alliance based on years of mutual co-operation during our most difficult days under apartheid. This co-operation extends beyond the realm of economics, but extends to areas of cultural and scholarly cop-operation. We must remain steadfast in our belief that BRICS and China in particular remain our most viable partners to radically transforming our society across all strata of public life. 

Nomvula Mokonyane is the Minister of Water & Sanitation and member of ANC NEC 

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