A long-time commercial partner with numerous African countries, the People’s Republic of China is looking to improve its defence ties on the continent, with particular emphasis on cooperating with South Africa on defence technologies.
As recently as June, a high-level Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) delegation visited South Africa. The group from the People’s Liberation Army National University of Defence Science and Technology (NUDT), one of China’s most prestigious institutions for science and technology, visited the South African Naval College in Gordon’s Bay to benchmark training practices in the SA Navy. The delegation was led by Major General Hu Jilin, the Political Commissar from the Information and Communication College of the University.
The NUDT delegates also visited and had successful discussions with Armscor and the SA National War College.
The University is known for its disciplines such as computer science and technology, composite materials, information system engineering and aerospace engineering. In June, the team from NUDT won the 10th edition of the Global Trajectory Optimisation Competition (GTOC X), the Olympic Games in the space industry.
NUDT has developed broad international exchanges and cooperation networks and has academic links with over 200 universities from 50 countries.
The visit transpired as a result of the RSA/PRC Defence Committee meeting held in August 2018 in Beijing where it was agreed that China would endeavour to gain further knowledge regarding defence technology development and joint operations support training in South Africa.
It is the NUDT delegations’ second visit to South Africa in the past two years, with the University looking for possible cooperation on mutual training and joint research as part of Chinese efforts to promote bilateral defence cooperation between South Africa and China.
A Chinese Embassy staff member told defenceWeb that South Africa and China have complementary advantages in the fields of defence technology, saying that South Africa has a very good defence industry foundation with many world class research institutes with experts who are working on cutting-edge defence technologies.
As China is one of the world’s top manufacturers and industrial producers and has the fastest-growing defence research and industry system, China is looking to South Africa for defence industry cooperation.
By carrying out mutual personnel training, conducting exchanges between defence industry and joint defence technology research, both countries can develop a win-win relation. In the area of military training and defence technology research, China is open to ideas relating to academic and research exchanges, joint research labs, joint ventures, technology transfer, etc.
Many research institutions and manufacturers within the South African defence industry rely on the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) as their primary customer, but the significantly reduced capital spend budget allocated to the SANDF is not expected to increase in the short to medium term, resulting in a decay of the South African defence industry. A possibility of saving the local defence industry is to enter into joint production agreements with the Chinese defence industry.
As China attaches greater importance to develop cooperative defence relations with South Africa, the coming months will see several other PLA delegations visiting South Africa for discussions with their South African counterparts to further strengthen bilateral relations.
With the South African defence industry world leaders in many fields, China is keen to establish a win-win cooperation with South Africa on defence technologies.