Chinese leader Xi Jinping is set to embark on a significant three-day state visit to South Africa, which includes attending a summit with leaders of the BRICS emerging economies. The purpose of Xi’s visit is to bolster China’s influence among developing and emerging nations as ties with the United States remain strained and economic troubles arise at home.
Xi aims to achieve his long-term goal of reshaping the world order into a Sino-centric one, and the BRICS grouping presents a valuable opportunity for China to advance this vision. The members of the bloc account for over 40% of the global population and share a desire for a more multipolar world.
This visit by Xi comes following US President Joe Biden’s recent meetings with leaders of Japan and South Korea, as both countries work to counter the rising threats posed by China. China, on the other hand, views BRICS as a platform to exert influence, especially in the Global South.
Coinciding with Xi’s visit are domestic challenges in China, notably a struggling economy. Despite a temporary rebound from the Covid lockdowns, China’s economy now faces a spiraling property crisis and mounting local government debt. The country’s youth unemployment rate has reached record highs, impeding its ability to provide aid and finance to developing nations.
Chinese citizens are beginning to question the rationale behind China’s investments abroad when domestic problems persist. Consequently, China has become more selective in choosing which foreign projects to finance amidst the slowing economy.
To affirm its commitment to Africa, China has increased its political and military engagement on the continent, despite reduced funding for major infrastructure projects. Xi’s visit to South Africa marks his first trip to Africa in five years, with no other stops announced. He will also co-chair the China-Africa Leaders’ Dialogue with South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa on the sidelines of the BRICS summit.
As Xi seeks to bolster China’s influence, both globally and within the BRICS bloc, his visit to South Africa serves as a crucial opportunity to solidify China’s position on the world stage and address both international and domestic challenges.