BRICS SUMMIT: Tough Love Triangle: While Ramaphosa focused on Xi, Modi threw a tantrum and refused to get off his plane

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Tough Love Triangle: While Ramaphosa focused on Xi, Modi threw a tantrum and refused to get off his plane

 From left: Chinese President Xi Jinping on 28 November 2018 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images) | Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, India, 20 July 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Harish Tyagi) | President Cyril Ramaphosa on 23 November 2022 in London, England. (Photo: Leon Neal / Getty Images)

22 Aug 2023  The Daily Maverick South Africa

All the attention South Africa is heaping on visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared to have miffed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as Xi’s state visit and the BRICS Summit began on Tuesday, 22 August.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to get off his aircraft at Waterkloof Air Force Base because the South African government had only sent a Cabinet minister to officially welcome him, officials said. By contrast, President Cyril Ramaphosa had personally been on the tarmac to greet Chinese President Xi Jinping when he arrived on Monday night.

Eventually, Ramaphosa despatched Deputy President Paul Mashatile from the Union Buildings formalities being held for Xi to dash to Waterkloof to welcome Modi.

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Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi at Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria with deputy president Paul Mashatile on 22 August 2023. (Photo: Jacoline Schoonees / DIRCO)

Xi certainly dominated the day. For starters, he was granted an abbreviated state visit on the morning before the BRICS Summit began — his fourth state visit to South Africa. He has been welcomed to South Africa on state visits on the occasions of the two previous BRICS summits in this country, in 2013 and 2018, as well as when he visited South Africa to co-chair the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation with Ramaphosa in 2015.

Pretoria had hoped to tack a similar event for Modi on to this year’s BRICS Summit, but officials said that scheduling clashes precluded this.

11666414 - South African President Ramaphosa and Chinese President Xi meet  in PretoriaSearch | EPA

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) is greeted by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (R) for a meeting at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, 22 August 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/KIM LUDBROOK)

In addition to the state visit, Ramaphosa also honoured Xi with the Order of South Africa, the country’s highest official award. And Ramaphosa and Xi will co-chair a special roundtable with the many African leaders who will attend the BRICS Summit for an outreach session with the BRICS leaders.

However, among all the honours, the pomp and the ceremony, Ramaphosa and Xi clearly also discussed some serious business — mainly focused on reducing South Africa’s massive trade deficit with China.

Reporting back on his closed meeting with Xi at the Union Buildings, Ramaphosa said the two leaders had agreed to narrow the trade deficit, including by increasing the access of South African products to the Chinese market.

He welcomed the fact that China had recently reopened its imports of SA beef — which had been blocked because of foot-and-mouth disease — and on Tuesday the two governments signed an agreement to allow the export of South African avocados to China.

This was one of 11 agreements signed, which covered a wide range of activities. One of the agreements was for China to donate energy equipment to South Africa to help it reduce load shedding.

According to United Nations Comtrade figures, SA had a $12.51-billion trade deficit with China in 2022, although China’s top African diplomat, Wu Peng, told journalists on Tuesday that if trade statistics were correctly calculated, it was China that actually had the deficit, of some $8-billion. He explained that this was because many of South Africa’s exports of gold and diamonds to China were routed through third countries.

He added that as long as overall trade between the two countries was growing rapidly, deficits and surpluses did not matter. He noted that total trade between the two countries in the first half of the year was $28.3-billion.

BRICS Summit: China's Xi unexpectedly skipped a business forum | CNN

Xi Jinping, China’s president, delivers a speech during a pre-BRICS summit state visit at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023. Xi, in an op-ed published in several South African media outlets, said his country and South Africa, as natural members of the Global South, should push for developing countries to have more sway in international affairs. (Photo: Bloomberg)

UN Security Council

Ramaphosa also appeared to say that China had shifted its position and was now ready to support Africa’s bid for a permanent presence on the United Nations Security Council.

He said after his meeting with Xi that they had agreed on the need for the reform of institutions of global governance, notably the United Nations Security Council. They had “agreed that the continent of Africa that remains excluded from this very august and important body of the world should indeed be given a voice in the United Nations Security Council”.

This appeared to hint that the Chinese leader was ready to support a permanent presence. Africa already has a temporary presence in the form of three non-permanent two-year seats which rotate among the continent’s 54 countries.

So it would not be news for Ramaphosa to announce that Xi was now supporting a non-permanent African presence on the apex body of global government.

The news would be if China was now prepared to back a permanent seat or more than one seat on an expanded Security Council. So far, neither China nor Russia, the two members of BRICS which have permanent seats on the UN Security Council, have publicly supported the campaigns for permanent seats of the other three BRICS members, South Africa, Brazil and India.

This is an anomaly, since one of the core reasons for the existence of BRICS is to increase the representivity of the “Global South” in world government.

But Ramaphosa’s remarks on Tuesday suggest that Russia and China might be shifting. A South African official said the BRICS leaders would discuss this during their retreat session on Tuesday night.

The summit continues on Wednesday and Thursday. DM

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Comments – Please note you must be signed in to comment.

  • Graeme de Villiers

    ‘One of the agreements was for China to donate energy equipment to South Africa to help it reduce load shedding.’
    ‘Donate’ is an interesting choice of verb for the years of payback that South Africans will be beholden to China for.
    Watch this space.

  • Lawrence Sisitka

    An Order of South Africa for Xi, but of course not for someone like Babita Deokaran who really deserves it albeit, sadly, posthumously. I think we are quite clear on which side our bread is now being buttered, and in an increasingly re-polarised world, which ‘side’ SA will be on. And it is absolutely nothing to do with capitalism versus communism/socialism, China is more capitalist than the US, just driven centrally, by the government itself, which holds all the capital. Maybe one day some brave nation will actually try real socialism, but getting out of the capitalist dominated world ‘growth’ economy to develop an economy of sharing will be very hard – Bhutan anyone?

    • James Francis

      Good point about the medal. As for the China affair, I think it’s becoming clear the ANC is not for democracy, but one-party class-based rule. Why else is it allowing its followers to undermine development and increase poverty, and protecting those followers when they steal and kill? The ANC wants a kingdom, not a republic.

    • William Dryden

      Socialism has never worked and never will, Russia is a prime example, the powers to be are all wealthy while the population live off the scraps. What they did was to build flats for the people and give them furniture but all the same size flat and identical furniture so that nobody could complain that someone else was getting more than them.

      • Johann Olivier

        Mr. Dryden. To be clear: socialism is NOT communism, which is what the USSR claimed as its system. Russia is currently neither. It is, somewhat like South Africa, a kleptocracy. Most European countries, most successful with happy populations, are social-democracies.

  • Jagdish Makan

    Unfortunate headline, “Modi threw a tantrum and refused to get off the plane”
    We once again badly slipped up on diplomacy. Our Government should have been aware of the clash of timings and planned accordingly. Our Deputy President should have been at the airport in the first instance to welcome Prime Minister Modi.
    It would not have been him personally but the diplomatic staff who would have made the call. He’s an extremely humble person.
    He should have been accorded similar status as President Xi.
    Firstly, well knowing the acronymous relationship between the two countries. India stands up to Chinese bullying and expansionist plans.
    Secondly, India today is a global powerhouse. Prime Minister Modi is treated with the highest honour and respect whenever he visits other countries.
    We just seems to blunder in every respect.
    If President Putin had come, what then ? Would President Xi be given the same honour?

    • Alley Cat

      A humble man? Surely a humble man would not demand that a senior SA official be present before he gets of his plane.
      He and his ruling BJP are cut from the same cloth as Cyril and the ANC. They have only their party interests at heart and not the interests of India. Just observe the treatment of the minorities in India. They are at best complicit in the regular xenophobic attacks on these minorities but more likely the instigators.
      Oh for a return to a world of Ghandi and Mandela. True leaders who were humble and human!

      • Kanu Sukha

        Well said !
        Yes … he is so humble … he would greet with the Namaste … and not let you know what dagger he has concealed between his clasped hands !

    • jason du toit

      “an extremely humble person” does not refuse to get off a plane just someone who is deemed not important enough is not there to meet them.

      humble. adj. having or showing a modest estimate of one’s importance.

      • eugene39

        Politicians world-wide are getting too full of themselves, likening themselves to Royalty as opposed to people who were voted for by their electorate (well, in most cases) to serve and look after them…a.k.a, public servants, of equal status to the public they serve. Modi’s behaviour is just a tacit example, but look at leaders globally. And we wonder where all the tax payer money is going – problem is we revere them too much and in some cases dare not demand anything of them. I wonder how many politicians would opt out and walk away if they were offered nothing more than free-market salaries and benefits similar to their counterparts in the private sector.

    • Bernhard Scheffler

      (More or less) democratic India has just beaten Putin’s aggressive warmongering imperialist autocratic Russia to a successful moon landing! May democracy always prevail, and aggression fail!

  • jean64

    It is just a matter of time before India withdraws from BRICS. Western companies are already starting to remove manufacturing from
    China and relocating to India.
    Once again, a demonstration by ANC that they are not democratic but instead socialists/communist by nature.
    Top all the power and can do nothing wrong. Below them, people systematically are stripped of rights, ownership and are forced to rely on the state in the form of grants etc. Rings a bell?
    No wonder the red carpet was pulled out for communistic China.

    • James Francis

      The ANC is little more than a crass autocracy with ambitions to be kings and queens over an electric fiefdom. Calling them communists or socialists is being too generous.

    • True socialism would be power in the peoles hands. Anc are not socialists in that regard. More capitalistic and communistic if anything. China is also a capitalistic autocracy more so than a communist state.

      I’d suggest moving away from “socialism bad”. Its a very close minded approach. Even communism could be suitable for our society in the future. It’s about the implementation and maintenance of the system along with GOOD governance.

      Capitalism isn’t your one and only friend. If it were we’d be in a corporatocracy (100x worse than now) as we wouldn’t have any social polices to keep businesses in check.

      Simply put, balance is needed.

    • andrew.farrer

      @jean, you sound like one of those idiot maga republicans – maybe do some research before putting pen to paper. Socialism & democracy can, and do, go hand in hand (Scandanavian countries?). And, communism, as practiced in China (and previously in the USSR) is/ was not that as espoused by Marx.

      • Matthew Hall

        Andrew, Scandinavian countries do not practise socialism, this is a widely held misunderstanding. What they have is capitalism and very, very high taxes, coupled with relatively low, homogeneous populations and relatively high per capita income. What results is a) everybody pulling in the same direction, more or less, and b) the budget to do so.
        Norway has vast oil and gas wealth, wisely invested.
        Also, try to limit the ad hominem attacks in polite conversation, they detract from your message.

        • Johann Olivier

          … ‘an electric fiefdom’? Hardly likely. They can’t generate the stuff.

  • Jane Crankshaw

    In my option, with this pecking order, one can only imagine how Putin, the coward, would have been welcomed!
    Forget about bending over backwards, one suspects CR would have bent forward to be shafted!
    The revolting and ridiculous BRICS dance continues….
    Let Saudi Arabia take our place and restore some dignity to our country and its people.

  • Alley Cat

    Order of South Africa? Why? What has Xi or China done for us? China is interested in exploiting our natural resources and nothing they “give” is for free! All comes with strings attached!
    Does the order have a picture of Cyril kissing Xi’s ass on it?

  • spillay

    Modi is a walking disaster, who causes more harm than good. The sooner he is gone the better for world peace.

  • Peter Slingsby

    Once again the ANC reveals its true, freedom-loving, democratic colours by awarding our country’s highest honour to a vicious, unelected dictator. After this, the Order of South Africa is worthless tinsel

  • Peter Doble

    Suggest reading the BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding’s pithy take on this pathetic circus of second rate southern hemisphere presidents. All in all they’re just another load of Brics in the wall (sorry Roger!)

  • Beyond Fedup

    WOW! Can this useless government get anything right, bes1des being masters of theft, destruction and corruption? The incompetence and being beyond stupid is staggering. As head of a powerhouse nation, Modi should be accorded the same respect and protocol as Xi. It is common knowledge that there is friction between the two countries but our bumbling Cyril and his idiotic government have no idea how to behave. No doubt had the mass-murdering monster Putin arrived, Cyril the spineless and his pathetic team would be tripping over themselves to kiss his backside.

  • Officials stats show there is a $12.5 billion trade deficit with China. Never been a country to accept statistics China said there is no trade deficit and they are in fact the losers because they buy gold watches from Europe which has SA gold and so they actually have the trade deficit and SA the surplus. Yeah you cannot make this stuff up. However because they are nice they have agreed to let SA sell meat and Avo’s, not sure if it will be $12.5 billion worth to close the gap and because the Chinese eat pork, but probably as long as SA accepts payment in Renmimbi because its important to break the Wests strangle hold on everything. SA has a trade deficit with every BRICS country the largest being China by far. Meanwhile South Africa enjoys long standing trade surpluses with USA, UK and the EU and have preferential trade agreements in place with them covering not just meat and potatoes (I mean avos)… eg Europe a key destination for SA built cars…. you know all those countries that are now the enemy who also pay in hard currency and don’t claim things bought from other countries as part of the trade info. Yet its important to wage economic and influence war with the USA, EU and UK because they are bad.

  • Smudger Smiff

    So many prams in town.
    So many toys being flung about.
    Can President Frogboiler pick them up quickly enough?
    Has he got enough medals for everyone to go home with a nice pressie?

  • Oom Dugk

    Tabloid headline.

  • janniesmit01

    Do DM readers know that Chinese are classified as Blacks. With BBEE if a Chinese company or Chinese person applies for a tender of job in SA they will get preference appointment before the white person/company living in the country for 300 years. This is strategy by the Chinese to get jobs and tenders in SA. Denise Smit

  • michele35

    China is joining the list of the has beens whilst India’s star is rising. SA diplomacy is at best a joke in bad taste. We are hoping for the Chinese billions yet the only real finance we have received so far is from the so called west. China’s investment in SA is farcical yet we pursue them rather than those who create real sustainable employment.

  • datsun78

    Lots of anti-china speak here.
    are they the ‘bullies’
    or do they stand in the same line as the IMF, World Bank or America for that mater.
    the simplistic take is usually the laziest.

    • Los Pollos Hermanos

      Very true. They’re all money grabbers and our government just goes along with it because it’s desperate.

  • Jeremy Kropman

    I would have thought Mashatile was the wrong guy to be sent anywhere in a hurry knowing his blue light brigade history.

  • meyerim

    Besides all the pomp and ass kissing, did anybody bother to ask about the locomotives and spare parts that Pravin went earlier in the year to plead for delivery?

  • Modi is an uneducated person. He is of fascist mentality and any thing and everything is. as if he is being disrespected. Low self esteem – proof is he lies all the time. Respectable Indians must be ashamed of him.

    • Matthew Hall

      My guys, how did this pass user moderation? This is textbook ‘personal attack’. Sigh.

      • Johann Olivier

        Mr. Hall. How is this a ‘textbook personal attack’? It is comment on a ‘leader’ of a country. Most courts accept that comments about public figures (voluntarily in the public domain) are allowed, even insulting comments. If he had said that about you or me, it would be a different matter. For the record, most of what was written is verifiable.

  • Ricky Rocker

    It’s not personal Mr Modi, just the normal chaos. Make sure you don’t need to go to Home Affairs for anything.

  • Pagani Paganini

    Lol! Your moment under the sun Mr. Peter Fabricius. It would have been a surprise if you didn’t cook a story to be relevant but didn’t imagine you would stoop so low. Then again since your “arms in Lady R” nonsense was debunked, you have to come up with something.

  • I like how the descendants of the oppressors are so quick to question the Chinese intentions. Remember that China like RSA was once colonised by your ancestors(Europeans). We simply wish to learn how did they escape the clinches of colonialism and poverty. These are things that no European can teach us, in fact its in their best interest that we remain poor and semi-colonised. We must continue with western education, languages and legal systems to the point we forget ours or believe that we had none. BRICS with its shortfalls is a good thing for us, it offers us an alternative to our former colonizers.
    Look closer at the Brics nations, they have one thing in common, most of them were colonised by westerners and some are at least suspicious of Western countries. No more US hegemony or European dominance in Africa. No more sanctions cause Zimbabweans took their land back. Each country can implement its own reforms without consideration of the Western countries or fear of sanctins. Each country must control its own destiny, self-determination and not have it dictated by the west. Look in west Africa most countries are tired of French presence in the region, just as we are tired of America and its allies. They’ve been threatening us that if we dont jump they will take away their AGOA, we are sick of it, they must take it and go if it no longer benefits both parties. We dont want any charity , we want partnerships based on mutual benefits.

    • Ricky Rocker

      My word. In 1994, the ANC was handed and unequal and unfair, but fully functioning country and a populous of many many educated white people who agreed it was unfair and happy to help move to a better South Africa for everyone.

      Now ask yourself what good the ANC has made of it.

      Just one thing.

      And when you run out of daylight, recognise the truth about the party whose policies you support.

    • Ben Harper

      Thanks for proving to everyone why SA is and always will be a basket case. It’s no surprise the anc terrorist organisation clings to power – their brainwashing and dumbing down of the greater population is reaping its rewards

    • Andrew Sjoberg

      The fact is you are one of the poorly educated. You also fail to recognise that any person can teach any other person something, if that other person is open to learning, which by your expressed attitude, you aren’t. Learn the real history of South Africa, not the rhetoric, before you go on about who should own the land, and what anyone is entitled to. Pay careful attention to recent history, so that you can begin to understand that it is in fact the last 30 years of oppression under the ANC government, their sinister agendas, state capture, corruption and thievery, that has brought poverty and destruction to a once booming economy. This is not the “government by the people for the people” you were promised. You will not get it from the ANC, the EFF or BRICS. You will get it if SA rescinds its’ racist policies on employment and builds an effective workforce, rescinds exchange controls, removes the current inept government, stops cadre deployment, offers equal employment opportunities to all genders and races. Then we will see the whole world wanting to reinvest and take us seriously. In 10-12 years we could be the powerhouse of the Southern Hemisphere.

  • Los Pollos Hermanos

    Lol! Maybe he was actually celebrating wasting money on landing something on the moon. Whoop-de-doo!!

  • Johann Olivier

    Hmmm? AGOA Adios. Then Squirrel et al will know that, in their lifetime, the dollar alternative won’t happen and BRICS is more bric-bat than solution for South Africa. (Those US senators are taking a long, hard look at the South African, boot-licking circus. As they should!)