The BRICS summit kicks off tomorrow in Johannesburg with leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa in attendance, representing roughly half the worlds population. A few days ago President Xi Jinping of China published an open letter in a number of South African newspapers with the title “For a New Era of China-South African Friendship”. (you can read the full letter below.)
But there are a few of comments that I need to make regarding the contents of this letter.
-The letter asks for improved cooperation and friendship between China and South Africa in various sectors such as education, finance, tourism, infrastructure etc. Although the letter in general is quite positive, there are a couple of negative issues that needs to be highlighted. For example; it gives only one specific example of industry ‘collaboration’ indicating that this specific industry is really important to China.
“Traditional Chinese medicine [TCM] companies are actively exploring the South African market, introducing acupuncture, cupping and other traditional Chinese therapies to the South African people as a new option to treat illnesses and keep fit. Chinese volunteers have mobilized Chinese companies and Chinese communities in South Africa to partner with local animal conservation organizations and make their contribution to wildlife protection in Africa. These are all powerful examples of China-South Africa and China-Africa friendship.”
Real collaboration should focus on working together to tackle pressing healthcare problems in both countries (or for that matter, in all five BRICS countries) by promoting modern healthcare, improving accessibility and affordability, funding education and research, etc. and together striving to become world leaders in modern healthcare. We are talking about almost half the worlds population, so what better platform to tackle global healthcare issues.
So, the above statement is not about collaboration but rather about forcing an ancient and thoroughly debunked healthcare system based on pseudoscientific principles onto Africa (and other BRICS countries) for the sake of expanding the export market of Chinese TCM companies. Apparently, these companies (or the TCM industry) are too big to fail and hence the decision was made not to wind it down over time, but rather to promote and internationalise it – for whatever logic that makes. Adding that there is collaboration in wildlife protection is in my view a bit of a joke, but I guess some people will consider this to be a sincere gesture (well, the dehorned Rhino in our local zoo is funded by the Chinese embassy, for what it’s worth).
A very effective way of making TCM acceptable, or even wanted, in South Africa is by using the strategy of anti-colonialism or even racism (a very clever, but unethical, marketing strategy in SA); “Our peoples forged a deep friendship during our common struggle against imperialism, colonialism and racism.” Indirectly implying that modern healthcare is an invention of the imperialist West and an acceptable alternative therefore is of course TCM. Hence the phrase “… as a new option to treat illnesses and keep fit.” The fact that TCM is by and large ineffective, based on ancient debunked principles, and sometimes extremely dangerous, is obviously not mentioned.
TCM is unfortunately part of how China (or rather the Chinese Communist Party) wants to exert soft power globally and expand its massive TCM industry (currently worth roughly $170 billion). I have written about how they achieved this in Australia and it seems to me that the Australian model (you can read about it here, here and here) will now be implemented in Africa via South Africa. Unfortunately, my efforts in Australia went unnoticed with not a single politician or regulator batting an eyelid in regard to the dangers that TCM poses to global healthcare and wildlife – I might however have been too late to influence the process.
Collaboration between countries works best when there is mutual trust, something that President Xi Jinping also mentions in his letter “We must steadily elevate our political mutual trust to new levels”. Now, how can you build trust when one country wants to dump fake medicines and treatments on another country? I just don’t see that happening.
We in South Africa do not want to start slapping each other to cure diabetes, or use rhino horn (or start skinning our donkeys, use lion bones etc) to ‘cure’ disease. Because once you start promoting these things as being effective medical treatments, before you know it, we might even start to stick needles into each other to influence the flow of Chi through meridians. This is how a society return to the dark ages of healthcare, and definitely not something that you wish upon your friends, or how you build trust between countries. We would far rather collaborate with China on improving and modernising healthcare in both countries. For what it’s worth, let’s put the wellbeing of society before profits.
Full text of Chinese President Xi’s signed article on South African media
Chinese President Xi Jinping on July 22 published a signed article titled “For a New Era of China-South Africa Friendship” on three South African newspapers, namely, The Sunday Independent, Sunday Tribune and Weekend Argus, ahead of his state visit to the African country.
The following is the full text of the article:
For a New Era of China-South Africa Friendship
President of the People’s Republic of China
It gives me great pleasure to pay my third state visit to the Republic of South Africa and attend the 10th BRICS Summit at the invitation of President Cyril Ramaphosa. I am full of expectations as I am about to set foot again on the beautiful land of South Africa, the rainbow nation standing at the convergence of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, and home to unique and magnificent landscapes, industrious and enterprising people, and colorful and pluralistic cultures.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties between our two countries, but the friendly interactions between our peoples go far beyond that. Our peoples forged a deep friendship during our common struggle against imperialism, colonialism and racism. After the birth of a new South Africa, especially in the past 20 years of diplomatic relations, our two countries have supported and learned from each other in our respective exploration of a development path suited to national conditions. This relationship has stood the test of time and a changing international environment. From a partnership to a strategic partnership, and then to a comprehensive strategic partnership, this relationship has made big strides and demonstrated a strong growth momentum in political trust, economic and trade cooperation, people-to-people exchanges and strategic coordination.
Over the past six years, our two countries have worked closely as co-chairs of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) to advance the comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership between China and Africa. Our bilateral ties have thus served as a model for China-Africa relations, for South-South cooperation, and for unity and cooperation among emerging market countries, and offered valuable experience for building an even stronger community with a shared future between China and Africa and a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness and justice, and win-win cooperation.
We enjoy close high-level exchanges and fruitful practical cooperation across the board. Our leaders have, through frequent mutual visits, meetings and other exchanges, provided top-level and strategic guidance for the bilateral ties. China has been South Africa’s largest trading partner for nine years in a row, and South Africa has become China’s largest trading partner in Africa. Two-way trade totaled 39.17 billion U.S. dollars in 2017, more than 20 times the figure at the start of our diplomatic engagement. Preliminary statistics show that China’s direct investment in South Africa has grown by more than 80 times and exceeded 10.2 billion U.S. dollars in cumulative terms, creating tens of thousands of jobs for local communities and giving a strong boost to the South African economy. Many Chinese companies are running successful businesses in South Africa, which is a full testament to our mutually beneficial relationship for common development. South African companies, for their part, are also making great success in China.
In recent years, measures such as hosting the Year of China/South Africa and launching the High-Level People-to-People Exchange Mechanism have brought our two peoples even closer with greater mutual understanding and friendship. We have seen expanding cooperation in such areas as education, culture, science and technology, and health, and growing exchanges between our youths and women. South Africa has attracted more Chinese tourists, established sister relations with more Chinese provinces and cities, and opened more Confucius Institutes and classrooms than any other Sub-Saharan country. China has become an increasingly popular destination for South African students and tourists. Traditional Chinese medicine companies are actively exploring the South African market, introducing acupuncture, cupping and other traditional Chinese therapies to the South African people as a new option to treat illnesses and keep fit. Chinese volunteers have mobilized Chinese companies and Chinese communities in South Africa to partner with local animal conservation organizations and make their contribution to wildlife protection in Africa. These are all powerful examples of China-South Africa and China-Africa friendship.
South Africa is now on a new journey of national development. President Ramaphosa has put forth the goals of growing the economy, creating jobs, improving people’s lives and advancing social transformation, thereby ushering South Africa into a new era of hope and confidence. China looks forward to working with South Africa to build on the momentum of the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties and strive for faster and greater progress in our comprehensive strategic partnership.
– We must steadily elevate our political mutual trust to new levels. We need to maintain high-level exchanges, strengthen inter-party cooperation and governance experience sharing, continue to provide each other with mutual understanding and support on issues bearing on our respective core interests and major concerns, and stay forever as each other’s reliable good friend, good brother and good partner. I look forward to receiving President Ramaphosa in Beijing in September and co-chairing with him the FOCAC Beijing Summit.
– We must strive for new outcomes in our practical cooperation. We need to promote complementarity between our development strategies, and make full use of bilateral mechanisms, FOCAC, the Belt and Road Initiative, BRICS cooperation, and other platforms to deepen cooperation in key areas such as industries, production capacity, resources and energy, infrastructure, finance, tourism, and digital economy and deliver more benefits to our peoples.
– We must increase communication to add new impetus to our people-to-people exchanges. We need to leverage the role of the High-Level People-to-People Exchange Mechanism in enhancing communication between our peoples, expand cooperation in education, culture, science and technology, health, and sports, and promote exchanges between youths, women, think tanks and media outlets. Such measures will bring greater public support for China-South Africa friendship, and make our peoples be more closely connected.
– We must strengthen collaboration and scale new heights in our strategic coordination. We need to support each other in hosting the 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit and the 10th BRICS Summit, step up coordination and cooperation within multilateral frameworks including the UN, the G20 and BRICS, and promote the reform of the global governance system in a joint effort to advance the fundamental interests of African and other developing countries, to build a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind, and to contribute wisdom and proposals to solving the world’s most pressing issues.
This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the BRICS Summit. Ten years on, BRICS cooperation has achieved remarkable development and gained an ever-growing influence. This year’s summit will be the first one held in the second “Golden Decade” of BRICS cooperation. China will go all out to support South Africa in hosting this event. Under the theme of “BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” we will deepen BRICS strategic partnership, enhance BRICS solidarity and cooperation, and facilitate the inter-connected development of BRICS countries. We are confident that this summit will usher in an even brighter future for BRICS cooperation.
This year celebrates yet another important event, the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela, the inaugural president of the new South Africa. To quote Mr. Mandela, “The African rebirth is now more than an idea. Its seeds are being sown in the regional communities we are busy building and in the continent as a whole.” With unremitting efforts, South Africa and the rest of the African Continent gained a new life in the last century. I am confident that this century will witness the rejuvenation of South Africa and that of the whole African Continent. Let us work together for a new era of China-South Africa friendship.