The raging battle between world leaders is getting even more fiery.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has thrown SA’s weight behind China in its trade war with the US. Ramaphosa’s stand follows a plea by SA’s four big telecommunications companies.
The CEOs of Cell C, MTN, Vodacom and Telkom asked for Ramaphosa’s help in dealing with the repercussions of an executive order signed by US president Donald Trump against Huawei.
Donald Trump’s approach to foreign diplomacy is, like his presidency in general, unconventional. He’s called North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un his “friend” and launched a passionate defence of the Saudi Crown Prince accused of organising the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. But in his trade war with China, he’s lost the support of Cyril Ramaphosa.
As Sunday Times report, the G20 summit in Japan saw Ramaphosa tread a diplomatic tightrope this week.
The 45th President of the United States perhaps won’t feel too aggrieved. The closest Cyril and Donald have come to any meaningful policy discussion came at the UN last summer – the pair allegedly discussed golfing matters. But given that the US is South Africa’s third-largest trading partner, our head of state is having to play some political chess.
Trade war cools
However, with all the chips on the table, President Ramaphosa has picked his side – and in turn, South Africa’s. Despite Trump seemingly climbing-down from his anti-Huawei position on Friday, Cyril has been giving his assurances to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
Mobile phone giants Huawei have been hammered in the US and the UK for their role in an alleged spying plot linked to their 5G technology. Sales of the handsets had initially been halted stateside before Trump confirmed over the weekend that they could be marketed once more.
However, the saga has left Jinping and his cabinet looking for guarantees from other key allies. Talks between the leaders of the US and China have been hailed as a “truce”, but the battle is far from over: Trump and Jinping will now resume dialogue on tariff charges, but there are no guarantees an agreement will be reached.
In their final statement, the G20 leaders admitted that most importantly, trade and geopolitical tensions have intensified, echoing hard-won language from their finance ministers at a meeting earlier this month.
Why Cyril Ramaphosa is backing China against the US
Well, you only have to look at his foreign investment drive from 2018: The Asian superpower ploughed R196 billion into South Africa last July and handed out a R33 billion loan to Eskom. In fact, they’ve got all types of coals in our fire, and it seems that Cyril is keen to keep the boat from rocking.
Secondly, the giants of telecommunications in Mzansi are desperate to avoid any potential “blacklisting scenario” with Huawei: The CEOs of Cell C, MTN, Vodacom and Telkom had previously written to Ramaphosa this month, telling him that losing their business would cost South Africa R100 billion.
Ramaphosa, Huawei and 5G technology
Finally, Huawei are seen as this country’s quickest route towards a 5G rollout. According to a quote from Presidential Spokesperson Khusela Diko, the Chinese brand has “lead the way with their technology” in order to make the next-generation network work viable in SA. Falling out with China would likely jeopardise any further progress.
So Donald Trump maybe cooling down his rhetoric on China, but tensions still remain at the boil. Ramaphosa has nailed his colours to the mast this weekend, and he’s putting his faith in the east instead of the west. Cyril will probably be hoping his loyalties won’t be the subject of one of POTUS’ infamous Twitter rants, either.