South African President Jacob Zuma due in China next week

South African President Jacob Zuma (above) will lead a high-profile delegation next week to China, its single largest trading partner, to strengthen investment ties, the government announced Thursday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
South African President Jacob Zuma (above) will lead a high-profile delegation next week to China, its single largest trading partner, to strengthen investment ties, the government announced Thursday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - South African President Jacob Zuma will lead a high-profile delegation next week to China, its single largest trading partner, to strengthen investment ties, the government announced Thursday.

Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane confirmed the visit will take place over Dec 4 and 5.

"South Africa and China share a sound political relationship which can be used better to lay the basis for implementing South Africa's economic objectives," Mashabane said.

"China has become South Africa's single largest trading partner in the world, while South Africa is China's largest trading partner in Africa."

Accompanying Zuma will be Nkoana-Mashabane and the ministers of trade and industry, transport, agriculture and finance.

South Africa joined the Brics bloc of developing economies - including Russia, India, China and Brazil - in 2011.

Nkoana-Mashabane said South Africa was an important entry point for China to the rest of the continent.

She said the recent establishment of the Brics Development Bank, to be headquartered in Shanghai with an African Regional Centre in South Africa, "raises the level of cooperation between China and South Africa" and was a "clear indicator of South Africa's growing significance" on the continent.

According to a policy brief put out this month by the Cape Town-based Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR), a third of Chinese trade with the continent in 2013 was through South Africa.

Chinese investment in South Africa has also grown steadily in the last decade, from US$59 million in 2004 to US$5 billion in 2012, making the country "the leading recipient of investment flows from China to the African continent".

In 2012, South Africa's national airline introduced non-stop flights to Beijing, a move the parastatal said would "nurture economic activity" between the two countries, to the benefit of the region.

"China regards South Africa as a key partner in advancing its relations with the African continent," said Nkoana-Mashabane on Thursday.

"While the two countries are strikingly different in their cultural, political and socio-economic orientation, they are very close in the positions they take on key issues affecting mankind."

South Africa has maintained a strong pro-China foreign policy since Zuma became president in 2009.

Earlier this month, a summit of Nobel laureates had to be moved from Cape Town to Rome after the South African government failed to issue a visa to exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, resulting in a boycott from dozens of laureates.

The move was widely regarded as a sign of South Africa's deference to Beijing.