What is China’s endgame?

South Africa was treated to a taste of Chinese propaganda with President Xi Jinping’s visit earlier this month.

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Local newspapers were flooded with paid-for editorial, with one newspaper selling its cover section to the Chinese.

Although this practice is not unheard of, few advertisers can afford such a cost, and it shows how serious the Chinese are about doing business in Africa.

That editorial painted a picture of a benevolent brother willing to share its expertise and technology with its infant sibling, lend it some money and guide it to maturity.

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In return, South Africa came across as a hero-worshipping toddler eager to emulate its big brother.

No one can deny that China has been good to us, pumping billions of rands into the country and now promising R94 billion more towards infrastructure development and other projects (see story on pg 16).

However, the cynic in me keeps asking, “What’s in it for China?” Well, since South Africa and China started moving closer together, it has become our main trading partner, receiving 9,7% of our exports and sending us 21,1% of the goods we import.

Chinese immigrants here have increased tenfold. Backed financially by their government, they are setting up shops, flooding the local market with cheap clothes and electronics. This, while SA apple producers had to negotiate for eight years before being allowed entry into the Chinese market.

Hortgro thought the apple deal would open up the door for pear imports, but that is not how the Chinese do business. Importing pears, apparently, is a whole new discussion.

China says it wants to see South Africa grow, but all I see is a growing trade deficit with China, and Chinese companies being awarded SA tenders and mining rights. It makes me wonder whose palms are being greased, despite the fact that, back in China, Xi is clamping down ferociously on corruption. Since he came to power in 2012, 80 Chinese officials at provincial or higher levels have stepped down as a result of his anti-corruption campaign.

China needs trading partners to keep up its economic growth. Clearly, it has recognised Africa’s future buying power.

More than that, however, it has realised that Africa holds some of the world’s last reserves of natural resources.

Africa’s indebtedness to China ensures its future access to these resources.

China has long-term plans for both South Africa and Africa, as is evidenced by its insistence that Mandarin be offered as a second language in South Africa.

The fact that South Africa was so eager to adhere to this request without consulting its own citizens should raise serious questions about the nature of this relationship.

Are we selling ourselves short for short-term gains, while at the same time losing the long-term game?