This month marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and South Africa.
I first set foot on the territory of South Africa at the end of 1995 on my way to Harare as the Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe. That short stopover filled me with anticipation for the future of this beautiful and legendary nation.
In 2001, I was posted as the second Chinese ambassador to South Africa. I worked there for six years, during which I personally witnessed major events in the development of Sino-South African relations and bilateral cooperation.
After apartheid ended in South Africa, there were some problems in the relations between China and South Africa due to the Taiwan question. However, once diplomatic relations were established between the two countries on the New Year's Day 1998, bilateral relations developed smoothly as political trust grew.
President Thabo Mbeki visited China in December 2001. Together with then Chinese president Jiang Zemin, they initiated in Beijing the China-South Africa Bi-national Commission, which has become an effective platform for bilateral, pragmatic cooperation.
During Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's South Africa tour in June 2006, both sides said they would further their strategic cooperation. South Africa adheres to the one-China policy and has refused all requests for transit in South Africa by both Chen Shui-bian and his "foreign minister", citing "technical reasons".
The two countries have supported and worked with each other on many major issues, such as South-North relations and the common interests of developing countries.
President Thabo Mbeki attended the Beijing Summit of the Sino-Africa Cooperation Forum in November 2006. After saying that the best way to understand China and its rapid development is to read Chinese books on the topic, he visited Wangfujing Xinhua Book Store, despite his heavy schedule, where he bought books on China's economic reform, social development, culture and education
South Africa is the largest economy in Africa. There is huge potential for economic and trade cooperation between China and South Africa. For many years, South Africa was China's top African trading partner.
The volume of bilateral trade in 2000 hit $2 billion, more than 20 percent of the total trade volume between China and the entire African continent. By the end of 2006, the volume of Sino-South Africa trade had increased nearly five times to $9.8 billion.
Within the framework of the Sino-Africa Cooperation Forum, the Chinese government has been training specialists from South Africa to help it get rid of poverty and develop its rural area. For example, academics from China Fujian Agricultural and Forestry University have been helping farmers earn more by applying their mushroom planting technology.
South Africa is a "rainbow country", with separate capitals for legislation, administration and justice and 11 official languages. And since China and South Africa were isolated from each other for many years, the two countries lack mutual understanding. Some South Africa media and sections of the public still hold prejudices against China.
As Sino-South African cultural exchanges increase and the Chinese economy grows, more and more South African people want to know more about China. Meanwhile, more Chinese nationals and tourists have been traveling to South Africa, which also contributes to the exchanges and understanding between the people of the two countries.
There were about 50,000 Chinese nationals in South Africa six years ago. This number at least doubled in 2007. These people have contributed to the development of South Africa. However, the improper behavior of some of these Chinese people have stained the image of China.
At the same time, the Chinese people also need to know more about South Africa, in particular the public security situation. The Chinese should view and treat this country with a more forgiving attitude.
(China Daily January 23, 2008)