L’ US President Joe Biden’s invitation to his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa at the White House and the acceptance of the latter are more than positive signs of a common will of the two States to move forward in their relationship bilateral, despite the recent differences of opinion on the war in Ukraine and the position of neutrality displayed by Pretoria. Above all, by addressing the South African leader, the American president also intends, on this same occasion, to send his message to the entire continent.
A bilateral relationship in the middle of the ford
Arrived this Friday, September 16, the South African head of state, who is going through a politically difficult time at home, was first welcomed by Vice-President Kamala Harris. “The relationship between the United States and South Africa is very important for many reasons,” she said, receiving Cyril Ramaphosa for breakfast at his residence. Kamala Harris praised “the initiatives that we have taken together on topics such as health, safety and of course the challenges that we both face, because of the climate crisis”. “The objective of this visit is to strengthen the relationship” between the two countries, said the South African president to journalists, also expressing his “gratitude” for American help in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Russian influence in South Africa
The United States wants to strengthen its ties with Africa, where the growing influence of both Russia and China worries them. And Washington has not forgotten that many African countries decided in early March not to vote for a United Nations resolution condemning the invasion of Ukraine. Joe Biden, who so far has not visited the continent, is organizing a major summit in Washington in December with African leaders. South Africa, an economic heavyweight, occupies a prominent place in this charm offensive. But, while well-disposed towards the Democratic president, the country has made it clear that the challenges of the moment cannot erase the solidarities and lessons of the past.
“Today’s outlook has its reasons, and I don’t think anyone should pretend that history didn’t exist,” said South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, guest of the Council. on Foreign Relations in Washington. The country has taken a neutral stance since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, refusing to join Western calls to condemn Moscow. “I will not allow myself to be put under pressure,” she warned during Antony Blinken’s visit in August, in response to a question about South Africa’s position vis-à-vis Russia.
South Africa has not forgotten the support given by the Soviet Union to the resistance against the apartheid regime, which the Western powers, on the contrary, have long allowed to flourish.
The country has – also – never digested NATO’s military intervention in Libya in 2011. She had her arm twisted to approve it when she sat on the UN Security Council, before to criticize this war and accuse Westerners of having abused this mandate to bring down Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
Since 2011, South Africa has been a member of the BRICS diplomatic group of emerging economies, bringing together Brazil, Russia, India and China, which at one time operated assiduously with one to two annual meetings, which helped to consolidate ties. In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the Brics to cooperate in the face of “selfish actions” by Western countries, amid unprecedented sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine conflict.
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China in Washington’s sights
Another delicate subject in the background of the meeting in the famous Oval Office: China, with which South Africa has very good relations, but whose influence Washington wants to counter. As with Russia, the White House approaches the interview with the greatest diplomatic precautions: African countries “have experience of relations with China, they have a positive and negative vision. It is particularly important […] to have honest conversations about the role of the major powers in the region,” assured the senior official quoted above, who declined to be named.
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The subject of climate transition also on the table
He also indicated that the two presidents would discuss in detail the aid promised by the West for the energy transition in South Africa. The country, where coal plays a very important role, was offered 8.5 billion dollars by several developed countries to wean itself off. But South Africa fears that this promise of financing, which goes through loans, will increase its debt.
Despite the differences, South African officials are much better disposed towards Joe Biden than towards his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, who during his tenure spoke of Africa in particularly offensive terms. “Nobody to date has apologized for this,” said the South African Foreign Minister.
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