Zuma wades into Msimanga row

President Jacob Zuma has stepped into the foreign policy row over Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga’s visit to Taiwan, which has drawn the ire of the People’s Republic of China.

In a statement from the presidency on Tuesday, Zuma acknowledged the diplomatic storm over Msimanga’s trip and, without rebuking the mayor explicitly, said that the President’s Co-ordinating Council – a forum in which the president can meet with leaders in local and provincial government – will meet “at the right time, [to] discuss matters relating to foreign policy co-ordination”.

“The presidency and government as a whole remain committed to sound relations and co-operation between the three spheres of government at all times, and to continuously promote co-ordination and communication,” the presidency said.

The statement comes in the wake of Msimanga’s return from Taipei earlier this week after visiting mayor Ko Wen-je to discuss investment opportunities.

The visit drew a sharp rebuke from the Chinese embassy: “China firmly opposes the mayor of Tshwane to be in official contact with Taiwan, which apparently goes against the “One China” principle and the basic norms governing international relations,” a spokesperson for the embassy said in a statement posted on its website.

China’s displeasure has been felt keenly by both  the ruling party and the department of international relations and co-operations (Dirco). 

Both have said that Msimanga’s trip contravened South Africa’s One China policy, and infringed on diplomatic ties with China, with the ANC going as far as to urge the department to confiscate the Tshwane mayor’s diplomatic passport.

Msimanga, however, reportedly responded by saying that he will not turn the trip into “political football”.

“One thing that I’m not going to do is to turn my trip into political football like the ANC is trying to make it into.
Our [purpose] was to go pick up some opportunities,” Msimanga said

The Tshwane mayor also took on the ANC and the department in a series of tweets.

The “One China” policy and the political squabbles
The People’s Republic of China has made it obligatory that all countries seeking diplomatic ties with the PRC must respect the One China policy.

The policy states that, for countries to have diplomatic relations with China, they must relinquish their ties with Taiwan, which, despite not being recognised as independent by a majority of countries around the world, identifies as the Republic of China.

Last year, the People’s Republic of China became South Africa’s biggest global trading partner. South Africa does not recognise Taiwan as an independent state.

The department of international relations said on Monday that it had been made aware of Msimanga’s trip to Taiwan in advance, and had advised the Tshwane mayor to cancel his trip “as it would constitute a breach of our One China policy”.

“In a move that is highly regrettable, Mayor Msimanga disregarded Dirco’s advice and proceeded with the visit,” the department said.

Msimanga, however, has countered the department’s claims, saying that it was the “ANC-run department of international relations and co-operation who asked for a representative from the city of Tshwane to be sent to Taipei on South Africa’s behalf”.

The ANC has now accused Msimanga of treason, but the Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson for trade and industry, Dean Macpherson, has accused both the department and the ANC of hypocrisy.

According to Macpherson Dirco led a visit to Taiwan in order to explore prospects.

Msimanga has said he will provide more feedback on his trip later this week. The presidency, meanwhile, has not said when the President’s Co-ordinating Council will meet.



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