South Africa: Building a BRIC Foundation With China?

Courtesy of The Financial Times, a report that China has invited South Africa to join the Bric group of fast-growing emerging markets – or at least to join one of their meetings.  As the article notes:

“…South Africa has been dropping not-so-subtle hints about its desire to be part of the group for a while – Jacob Zuma, the country’s president (pictured), said as much on a trip to Beijing in August. Now Zuma’s wish has been partially granted with the promise that he will be invited to attend a Bric summit that China will host next year.

As China Daily reports:

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi Thursday said Bric has accepted South Africa as a full member of the group, which currently includes Brazil, Russia, India and China … Yang, during a phone conversation with his South African counterpart Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, said Chinese President Hu Jintao would issue an invitation letter to South African President Jacob Zuma, inviting him to attend the third Bric leaders’ meeting to be held in Beijing next year.

The summit could turn out to be an audition for South Africa, in which case it’d be too early to crow. But anyway, being given a chance is all very flattering. Especially because South Africa has been picked out ahead of a gaggle of other countries that’d love to be Brics, not least its great African rival Nigeria. Others include Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea, Turkey and Mexico.

But in and of itself being in the Bric group doesn’t mean much materially. There aren’t even many investment funds focused specifically on the group. What really matters are perceptions. And Zuma will be hoping that some of the excitement about the Brics will rub off on it, attracting new capital from portfolio investors and corporate executives to South Africa.

It’s not clear whether China consulted other members of the elite group before issuing the invitation, or whether it’s in China’s power alone to invite a new country into the club.

But China Daily reports:

Yang said that China, as the current rotating chair of Bric, believes South Africa’s accession will promote the development of Bric and enhance the cooperation of emerging market economies.

There’s one obvious reason for China to choose South Africa. Beijing is highly sensitive to accusations that it is plundering African resources. That’s why it held an awards ceremony this week for companies that have promoted a positive image of China in Africa. Making South Africa a Bric would send a useful message that China views African countries as equals and treats them as such.

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