The Southern African Development Community (SADC) region consists of 14 countries: Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.In dealing with the main countries and issues areas, what is the role of China, given not only massive recent investments, loans and trade relationships with SADC countries, but also its new Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)? After all, BRI’s reach is exceptionally ambitious, reaching even as far off the beaten track as Southern Africa. Still, several SADC countries have not yet joined BRI: Mauritius, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana, Malawi and the DRC. And Eswatini’s long-standing Taiwan relations remain a source of growing tension with Beijing.
The main Chinese investments and loans in South Africa require unpacking because they are both within the BRI, conceptually, but due to systemic corruption and ecological destruction, social resistance has arisen to the main projects: port expansion in Durban (already Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest), rail expansion to export coal from Limpopo province, an auto factory in Nelson Mandela Bay, the largest coal-fired power plant under construction in the world (Kusile), and the largest Special Economic Zone in South Africa (Musina-Makhado).
These projects – begun during the 2010s with most continuing into the 2020s – can be understood as a function of a plenary talk at the World Economic Forum in early 2017, just before Donald Trump took power, in which Xi Jinping clarified his ideology: “We must remain committed to developing global free trade and investment, promote trade and investment liberalisation” (Xi, 2017). In a 2015 talk, Xi insisted on the merits of trade among his key partners, the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa BRICS bloc. These economies must “boost the centripetal (unifying) force of BRICS nations through cooperation in innovation and production capacity to boost competitiveness” (Xi 2015). However, as argued below, the ‘centripetal’ economic strategy referred to within the BRICS – i.e., that as the world turns, it becomes more tightly integrated – was, in reality, increasingly centrifugal, given tendencies to deglobalisation underway already by 2007, the peak of internationally-integrated trade, finance and investment.
Indeed, the trade that now occurs is increasingly disconnected from what are known as value chains: i.e., globally-integrated production systems. McKinsey Global Institute’s 2019 ‘global flows’ analysis confirms that “…a smaller share of the goods rolling off the world’s assembly lines is now traded across borders. Between 2007 and 2017, exports declined from 28.1 to 22.5 percent of gross output in goods-producing value chains” (McKinsey 2019). The decline in trade intensity is led by China, where gross exports as a share of gross output in goods fell from 18 percent to 10 percent from 2007-17.
The centrifugal process entails outward stresses on a system as it turns, pushing an object away from the centre, potentially leading to its disintegration. Ironically, even before Covid-19 wrecked the global economy, the recent decline in world trade/GDP ratios was led by the BRICS group; i.e., the economies that once were considered by Goldman Sachs manager Jim O’Neil (2001) to be what he called the ‘building BRICS’ of 21st-century capitalism. Not only was South Africa hit hard – as trade fell from 73 percent of GDP in 2007 to 58 percent in 2017, compared to a world trade/GDP decline over that period from 61 percent of GDP to 56 percent. All the BRICS witnessed reduced trade in much greater degrees than the global norm, and three spent parts of 2015–19 in recession: Brazil, Russia and South Africa. In 2020, only one (China) recorded positive GDP growth.
updated Aug 27,2021 Now back in Atlanta. Working with Donna Stephens as member of Chattahoochee Brick Company Descendants Coalition she spearheads and Board of FFRN (Fund For Reparations Now, composed of whites in different parts of US who raise funds for reparation projects authenticated as reparation and assigned to us by NAARC (National African American Reparation Commission, pending passage of H.R. 40. Please feel free to use anything on my site and I'll be honored if you do; but if you do, please cite Peggy Dobbins and include a link to peggydobbins.net