Climate talks - eyes on 'cowardly lion' SA

2011-10-10 22:48

Johannesburg - The Dalai Lama visa debacle has raised worries about the country's next big diplomatic test - when it hosts global climate talks that could collapse without firm guidance.

South Africa has already shown that it casts a tiny foreign policy shadow and the past week's events has likely further diminished its stature by showing how easily it can be bullied.

The department of international relations and co-operation's dawdling over a decision on the Dalai Lama's visa to attend Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's birthday party, seen as caving into China, has further eroded confidence in the government.

The celebrations co-incided with a high-profile visit by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe to Beijing, where he won a pledge for $2.5bn in investments from the country's largest trade partner.

On Monday, the ANC confirmed it had also sent a high-level economic delegation to Beijing to meet Chinese officials.

Beijing calls the Dalai Lama a dangerous "splittist", and it was felt that it may have pressurised the government on the visa issue.

No respect

The visa incident came after South Africa found itself on the minority side of global opinion in recent months by supporting entrenched and autocratic leaders in Libya, Syria and Ivory Coast.

Foreign Policy magazine dubbed the country a "cowardly lion" while other critics have said the ANC has compromised the ideals it embraced when it fought to end apartheid by pandering to Beijing and continuing to embrace autocratic states in recognition of their past patronage during the ANC's liberation struggle.

"Principles have fallen to such an extent that nobody expects them to do the right thing," said a diplomat in Pretoria.

Pretoria's failure shows diplomatic naiveté, which can be exploited by trade partners, leading economic daily Business Day said in an editorial.

South Africa failed to see that mature democracies can build trade with China and also accept the Dalai Lama as a visitor, it said.

"China trades with South Africa because it is in China's interests to do so, and it can be taken as given that they would drop us like a shot if that situation were to change, regardless of our treatment of the Dalai Lama," it said.

British tycoon Richard Branson, who attended the Tutu celebrations, told Talk Radio 702: "It's just very sad that the next generation of South African leaders feels that they need to kowtow to the Chinese. The Chinese, I believe, will not respect them for that."

Pressing worry

South Africa has increasingly tied its diplomatic fortunes to China, which rewarded the Zuma government with membership of the BRICS grouping of major emerging economies that also includes Brazil, Russia and India.

South Africa, with a GDP less than a quarter the size of the smallest BRIC economy, Russia, has hoped accession to the group would increase it trade and prestige but has so far found little to show for membership.

But in an indication of South Africa's small economic standing in the grouping, all major BRIC-related investment funds have excluded South African shares from their portfolios.

A more pressing worry for investors are rigid labour laws that drive up the cost of personnel and regulations that make it difficult to set up shop in the country.

"South Africa's foreign policy shenanigans are already 'priced in', whether it be Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Libya, the general behaviour on the Security Council or now this," said Peter Attard Montalto, emerging markets economist for Nomura International.

Pretoria has shown continued support for rulers with poor human rights records, such as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Swaziland's King Mswati III, while delaying recognition of Alassane Ouattara as the internationally acknowledged winner of Ivory Coast's disputed presidential election.

It abstained from a UN vote to punish Syria, a longtime ANC supporter, for its slaughter of anti-government protesters, tarnishing a visit last week to South Africa by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who has pushed for the measure and was looking to expand trade.

Cop out

South Africa's next major diplomatic challenges comes when it hosts the Conference of Parties (COP17) global climate talks in Durban, with countries looking - not very optimistically - to heal the ailing Kyoto protocol on emissions cuts targets.

The host country and COP secretariat have been the main power brokers at previous meetings, where they have tried to sort through the complex diplomatic, economic and scientific positions that are part of the bargaining.

Many participants feel the government is not up to the challenge.

"South Africa hosting the event does not inspire a lot of confidence. Most of us are looking beyond Durban to the next COP meeting," said one negotiator, who asked not to be named.

The country's economic might, trade and to a large extent its diplomatic status, have been based for decades on minerals. It has the world's largest gold reserves and 90% of its platinum.

But while commodity prices have boomed over the past decade, mining investment in the world's fifth-biggest mining economy has stagnated and the sector is shrinking due to regulations that stifle foreign investment, concerns about growing corruption in Zuma's government and talk within the ANC of the nationalisation of mines.

Africa's most populous country, Nigeria, an oil producing power, has been vying for diplomatic prestige on the continent by showing it is more in touch with global sentiment.

Nigeria was far quicker to recognise the National Transitional Council as the government of Libya, while Pretoria snubbed the NTC for weeks and insisted that loyalists of deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi have a say in running the country.

  • joshreader - 2011-10-11 00:24

    I agree that our foreign policy is too often driven by a kind of tone-deaf conception of self-interest, and is misguided, short-sighted and corrupt. That said, the critics who deem SA naive for not being firmer with the Chinese are perhaps themselves naive. We aren't the only ones who do this tapdance. Earlier this year, there were questions over whether Obama would meet with the Dalai Lama, and for the same reasons. He eventually did, but it was a hush-hush, back-door, non-photo op meeting. So let's not have double standards in reporting on how uniquely compromised SA is in relation to China. And the assertion that China would respect us more if we stood up to it is, I can tell you (and I have lived and worked in China) patently absurd.

      Charlie - 2011-10-11 02:50

      South Africa is getting colonised again! This time with full democratic government sanctioning (and additional personal benefits?)... Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika....

      kilo39 - 2011-10-11 05:44

      There is a monumentous divide between the corruptibility of the USA vs the RSA. The USA have relatively more solid governmental structures, discipline, integrity and self policing than the RSA which is ripe to be plucked. Therein lies your answer when considering whether RSA can be compromised. The article is spot on when it alleges that RSA foreign policy decisions are skewed to benefit only the ANC elite, and decisions that have been made are counterproductive to fostering goodwill and investment to the benefit of our masses of fertile unemployed. Cheap inferior and oftentimes illegal Chinese imports are no match for our gold and platinum.

  • Ex-employer - 2011-10-11 02:26

    South Africa has become a Chinese lap dog. A word of caution though, the Chinese eat dogs.

      kilo39 - 2011-10-11 07:50

      Negative...even lap dogs know to 'sh*t outside' and not on the 'carpet' (read SA). No I think the precise term would be 'Chinese female dog' (read any which way but loose!)

  • leonard - 2011-10-11 05:38

    South Africa ,since 1994 has been trying to punch above it`s weight on the international stage.The only reason certain countries pay any lip service to us is because we have minerals and land that they require.Unfortunately the leaders of SA are too easily influenced by trinkets,beads and shiney things.Personal wealth to these leaders will be the downfall of our country.The world should refuse to come to this conference as a protest against recent happenings re the DL.

      parkavenue - 2011-10-11 07:44

      Yip, back to the old barter system,trade Africa style... this is their idea of economic freedom

  • pitbull - 2011-10-11 06:17

    All tourism should be stopped to South Africa, until this government extracts its digit about people like the Dalai Lama. I wouldn't be surprised if the global climate talks were to fail due to non-attendance.

  • Buffalo - 2011-10-11 06:20

    There are two words in this article that should never appear together: `principles' and `anc', unless of course the former is preceded by `a complete and utter lack of . . .'.

  • Honestly - 2011-10-11 06:39

    This event will be a big waste of money. A gathering of "weather scientists" talking about theories and bu@@Sh1t

  • Wow! - 2011-10-11 07:13

    A weak, insipid government who is led by the nose; whether it be the ANCYL, Zanu-PF or China.

  • Myth - 2011-10-11 07:20

    GREED! It's all about enriching themselves in the short term. They are probably aware their voter base is shrinking so want to grab as much as they can, while they can. At the final WEU meeting earlier this year one of the ambassadors delivered a speech and received special mention for declaring "it is the job of a politician to secure the future of his country first, and not his party or himself". That is the difference between a professional and the mob we have in SA.

  • 50something - 2011-10-11 07:24

    This article says everything that every intellegent person in SA thinks. no need to add anything

      mpiyakhe.dhlamini - 2011-10-13 18:48

      is it intellectual to pigeonhole intellectualism?

  • Cliff - 2011-10-11 07:31

    The A N C = the Animal Needs Chaining! The ANC is run by socialist communists with a huge chip on their shoulders and will do business with anyone no matter what their morals and principals are because they have none themselves.

      Cliff - 2011-10-11 07:37

      The Climate Talks will be opportunity for the international community to vote with their non attendance!

  • BlackVelveteen - 2011-10-11 07:37

    Sobering comment with much needed objectivity. Thank you.

  • Alan - 2011-10-11 08:02

    Well - with the Muppets we have 'running' the show - we can expect nothing to materlialise from this event unless it has something to do with greasing our local corrupt palms. Sorry to say, but I think our Govt. is absolutely useless at everything except self enriching themselves at the expense of SA's citizens. They have shown incompetence time and again, coupled with non stop lies. Slowly but surely, even the uneducated masses are getting disgruntled with the ever worsening scenario. Until such time as we have a Government that are our elected SERVANTS who do all things for the good of our population, we will remain on a very slippery slope downwards. As long as our politicians are mainly corrupt, and they consider themselves to be our MASTERS instead of SERVANTS - we will all suffer badly. On a good note though, times are a changin.... and the ANC's days are numbered. Perhaps with the next transition of Govt.,climate change will be taken seriously.

  • Piet_Vere - 2011-10-11 08:07

    Should the caption not read " cowardly lyin' " South Africa and more specificly cowardly lying ANC ?

  • Question All - 2011-10-11 08:48

    What has the Dalai storm in a tea cup got to do with the upcoming COP conference? There have been many conferences held in SA without much hassels. This is realy much ado about nothing.

  • Leoster - 2011-10-11 09:32

    The Chinese are extremely educated and patriotic and will take advantage of anyone in order to advance the interests of their country. Our contry on the other hand invents nothing, lowers education and moral standards and will do business with anyone who "donates" to the "right" people. No vision, no patriotism.

  • Darwinian - 2011-10-11 10:19

    "But in an indication of South Africa's small economic standing in the grouping, all major BRIC-related investment funds have excluded South African shares from their portfolios." Wow, what an eyeopener.....

      Darwinian - 2011-10-11 10:38

  • Robert Cerff - 2011-10-13 13:01

    Well lets see... thats $2.5bn investment or the visit of an old man. I'll take the money thanks. Is that selling out, quite possibly. Lets not argue that it's all corrupted anyhow (because that's well known) but on face value I'd rather take the invesmtent. Isn't the Dalai Lama just a religious dictator anyhow? ;)

      thebrucemcdonald - 2011-12-01 17:03

      It's called principles. And now that we have established that SAn internal policy can be bought, the only question now is not whether she's a whore, but what is the price.

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