amaphosa and other senior South African government officials greeted Xi’s plane in Johannesburg. The visit is Xi’s second time to leave China this year; the Chinese dictator met with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Moscow in March.
Xi abstained from leaving the country, and only rarely left Beijing, for the first two years of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
Xi landed to the ebullient sounds of a traditional African dance troupe and handshakes from Ramaphosa and his team.
Upon landing, Xi delivered a pre-written speech, according to the Chinese state outlet Xinhua, celebrating South Africa as a close trade partner that allegedly shares the Chinese Communist Party’s values.
“A solid and growing China-South Africa relationship not only benefits the two peoples, but also brings more stability to a world which is undergoing transformation and turbulence,” Xi said, Xinhua reported, “adding that he believes with the two sides’ concerted efforts, the visit will definitely be a complete success.”
Xi reportedly also praised BRICS as a “constructive force for the the world’s economic growth, better global governance and greater democracy in international relations,” urging African leaders generally to engage in building “closer cooperation, greater development and a more peaceful world.”
“I believe that this summit of the leaders of the member countries of the association will be an important milestone in the history of the development of the BRICS mechanism,” Xi said, “that it will strengthen cohesion and cooperation among developing countries to an even higher level.”
BRICS is a trade and security organization made up of the five members that give the group its name: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Following his arrival, Ramaphosa greeted Xi on Tuesday morning with a welcome ceremony in Tshwane, where South African soldiers offered a 21-gun salute – “the highest honor rendered to a visiting Head of State,” according to the South African president’s office.
The regal welcome, South Africa’s Daily Maverick explained on Monday, belies some frustrations in the South African government over how much China’s influence over its economy has grown, with little to show as far as South Africa itself elevating its economic profile.
“The relationship with China is not entirely satisfactory to South Africa, mainly because of its huge and growing trade deficit with the country, which Ramaphosa said is its largest trade partner by volume (though trade with the European Union is larger),” the newspaper noted. “SA’s trade deficit grew from $5.5-billion in 2020 to $7.6-billion in 2021 and to $12.51-billion in 2022, according to UN Comtrade figures.”
China-South Africa relations will take a backseat during this visit to the greater goal of empowering BRICS. This year’s BRICS summit has elicited significant global interest amid reports that China, in particular, is looking to expand its membership. As the Daily Maverick explained, “Xi is strongly pushing for an expansion of the membership of BRICS, which will be the main item on the agenda of the summit.”
“Xi clearly regards an expanding BRICS bloc as a growing counterweight to what he sees as the dominance of the West in the global political and economic order,” the newspaper noted.
As many as 40 countries, including major economic powers such as Saudi Arabia, have reportedly expressed interest in joining BRICS and, according to Chinese state media, “over 60 global leaders and political heavyweights have been invited to attend” the South Africa summit.
Notably absent from the affair is Putin, who would face arrest if entering South Africa due to the International Criminal Court (ICC) issuing an arrest warrant for him in response to atrocities committed during the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Also not partaking is French President Emmanuel Macron, who asked for an invitation and received a baffled rejection, presumably on the grounds that BRICS is largely intended as an anti-Western coalition.
Xi, in particular, has touted the potential for BRICS to become the voice of the “Global South,” a term typically meant for underdeveloped tropical countries that China and Russia routinely use despite boasting vast northern – and in Russia’s case, Arctic – territories. In an op-ed published in multiple South African newspapers prior to his arrival on Monday, Xi insisted that China and South Africa, “as natural members of the Global South, should all the more work together to appeal for greater voice and influence of developing countries in international affairs.”
Expanding BRICS membership could help the countries, whose economies have suffered a variety of self-inflicted wounds in the past two years, come closer to their reported goal of creating a BRICS common currency, or at least choosing a different currency, such as the Chinese yuan, to substitute for the U.S. dollar in international trade. Russia has a particular interest in doing away with dollar trade to evade the sanctions imposed on its economy in response to its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, while China has been using its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global infrastructure debt-trap scheme, to force countries into using the yuan. Brazil’s anti-American socialist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva promised to create a South American united currency during his presidential campaign last year.
“We are going to restore our relationship with Latin America. God willing, we will create a Latin American currency,” Lula said at the time.
“We don’t have to depend on the dollar.” ✪