China looks to increase defense ties with South Africa

A Chinese naval vessel visiting South Africa.

A long-time commercial partner with numerous African countries, the People’s Republic of China is looking to improve its defense ties on the continent, with particular emphasis on cooperating with South Africa on defense technologies.

As recently as June, a high-level Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) delegation visited South Africa. The group from the People’s Liberation Army National University of Defense Science and Technology (NUDT), one of China’s most prestigious institutions for science and technology, visited the South African Naval College in Gordon’s Bay to benchmark training practices in the SA Navy. The delegation was led by Major General Hu Jilin, the Political Commissar from the Information and Communication College of the University.

The NUDT delegates also visited and had successful discussions with Armscor and the SA National War College.

The University is known for its disciplines such as computer science and technology, composite materials, information system engineering and aerospace engineering. In June, the team from NUDT won the 10th edition of the Global Trajectory Optimisation Competition (GTOC X), the Olympic Games in the space industry.

NUDT has developed broad international exchanges and cooperation networks and has academic links with over 200 universities from 50 countries.

The visit transpired as a result of the RSA/PRC Defense Committee meeting held in August 2018 in Beijing where it was agreed that China would endeavour to gain further knowledge regarding defense technology development and joint operations support training in South Africa.

It is the NUDT delegations’ second visit to South Africa in the past two years, with the University looking for possible cooperation on mutual training and joint research as part of Chinese efforts to promote bilateral defense cooperation between South Africa and China.

A Chinese Embassy staff member told defense Web that South Africa and China have complementary advantages in the fields of defense technology, saying that South Africa has a very good defense industry foundation with many world class research institutes with experts who are working on cutting-edge defense technologies.

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As China is one of the world’s top manufacturers and industrial producers and has the fastest-growing defense research and industry system, China is looking to South Africa for defense industry cooperation.

By carrying out mutual personnel training, conducting exchanges between defense industry and joint defense technology research, both countries can develop a win-win relation. In the area of military training and defense technology research, China is open to ideas relating to academic and research exchanges, joint research labs, joint ventures, technology transfer, etc.

Many research institutions and manufacturers within the South African defense industry rely on the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) as their primary customer, but the significantly reduced capital spend budget allocated to the SANDF is not expected to increase in the short to medium term, resulting in a decay of the South African defense industry. A possibility of saving the local defense industry is to enter into joint production agreements with the Chinese defense industry.

As China attaches greater importance to develop cooperative defense relations with South Africa, the coming months will see several other PLA delegations visiting South Africa for discussions with their South African counterparts to further strengthen bilateral relations.

With the South African defense industry world leaders in many fields, China is keen to establish a win-win cooperation with South Africa on defense technologies.

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