Zuma’s foreign policy ‘roll of a dice’

2011-10-15 16:11

Foreign diplomats based in South Africa have described President Jacob Zuma’s approach to foreign policy as “the roll of a dice” following his speech at the University of Pretoria this week.

Various international media outlets this week also heavily criticised South Africa’s foreign policy in the wake of the drama surrounding the Dalai Lama’s proposed visit to South Africa.

Alan Cowell wrote in the New York Times: “South Africans have come to the conclusion: under (South Africa’s) newest coterie of the powerful around President Jacob Zuma, (South Africa) has lost its claim to the moral high ground.”

A Western diplomat based in Pretoria told City Press that the days of South Africa “flying under the radar” when it comes to foreign policy is over.

But it is unclear what the foreign policy is.

“At least with other countries, you may not agree with them, but you know where you are. It makes sense, but here it doesn’t. Foreign policy should not be the roll of the dice,” the diplomat said.

In his speech on Thursday, Zuma painted a picture of the South African foreign policy landscape, but diplomats agree he spent an inordinate amount of time explaining the “One-China policy”.

“Most countries in the world these days subscribe to the One-China policy. Why make such a big issue out of it?” said a diplomat from a Scandinavian country.

Zuma’s elaborate explanation of the One-China policy is seen as a way to explain why South Africa did not give the Dalai Lama a visa to visit the country.

“But he got it all wrong,” said an Asian diplomat.

“The One-China policy is not about Tibet; it is about Taiwan. And if Zuma believes that Tibet still wants secession, he is saying he doesn’t believe the Dalai Lama, who said he’s not pushing for that any more.”

But Zuma’s biggest mistake, diplomats agree, is when during question time he tried to compare the Dalai Lama visa issue to ANC leaders being listed as terrorists by the US State Department during the apartheid years.

Drawing an analogy with the way the US had refused entry to ANC leaders in exile because it regarded them as “terrorists”, Zuma said this did not mean the US was not a democratic country but that “it had its own security and national interests to consider”.

But this analogy is not seen as a wise one.

A European diplomat commented: “The US decision was clearly wrong, so it was not a very good analogy because he is in effect saying South Africa is making the same mistake as the US did in the past. It was very difficult for Zuma to explain the SA position on this issue.”

Reuters said South Africa had already shown it cast a tiny foreign policy shadow and the Dalai Lama drama “has likely further diminished its stature by showing how easily it can be bullied”.

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