COMMENT

Cyril's failure of diplomacy

Douglas Gibson says the President's attack on the US, and sucking up to China, make no sense

Has President Ramaphosa been studying at the Zindzi Mandela School of Diplomacy? His recent gratuitous insults to the United States of America and his sucking up to China make no sense against the background of the overriding aim of the New Dawn: focusing on the economy, attracting foreign direct investment, fostering growth and thus creating jobs for our unemployed millions.

Our president chose to state publicly that the US “is jealous that a Chinese company called Huawei has outstripped it when it comes to 5G technology” and further, that the US has been unable to imagine a better future which goes beyond 4-plus-1G (referring to 5G connectivity).

This crass ignorance illustrates that the president is surrounded by advisers and speech writers who let him down at crucial moments. US concerns go far beyond the simplistic and include worries about unfair trade practices, huge trade imbalances with China and about security aspects relating to giving China the means and the ability to have access to and control vast swathes of communications in the world. These concerns may or may not be unjustified, but they are real to President Trump and the USA and he is likely to be leading the USA until January 2025.

One of the most fascinating spectacles of our time is the manoeuvring between the United States of America and China. Make no mistake about it, the “trade war” is but the tip of the iceberg; there is a major struggle going on between the two most powerful countries in the world. It is a struggle for hegemony between the two as they compete for power.

Would it not be good sense for South Africa to remain on excellent terms with both China and the USA? Of what possible benefit is it to SA to be friends with the one and on rather cool terms with the other? Is there a benefit, other than the ideological satisfaction of poking President Trump in the eye? But then, there is scarcely a dictator in the world for whom the government does not have a warm feeling and scarcely a democratic western country that the ANC really likes.

When measured in economic terms, the course to be followed by SA in relations with China and the USA should be blindingly obvious. For the period January to October 2018, we had a favourable trade surplus of around R7.9 billion with the USA; that is, we sold more to them than they sold to us.

With China, for the same period, we had a hugely unfavourable trade deficit of R96.85 billion in that they sell far more to us than we are able to sell to them.

Apart from trade, there is investment in South Africa. Bloomberg told us in February this year that US investment in SA is R129 billion. The UK has invested R519.4 bn; Netherlands R346.3 bn; Belgium R285.7 bn; Germany R94 bn. China’s total investment is R89.9 bn. Why should China be our only best friend and why should we insult and denigrate other friends?

We ought to follow a far more pragmatic policy towards all countries. We can be friends with all, to the considerable benefit of our trade relations. Trade and investment from other countries should be welcome, provided that they are going to do ethical business and obey our laws and have no ulterior motives about capturing our state.

It is not wrong for President Ramaphosa to indicate, quite gently, that we will pursue our own national interests but doing so diplomatically would seem to be far preferable to revealing outdated ANC antipathy to democratic countries of the West.

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His website is douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com. This article first appeared in The Star newspaper.