South Africa–Taiwan relations

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Taiwan–South Africa relations
Map indicating locations of Taiwan and South Africa


South Africa

South Africa–Taiwan relations refers to the current and historical relationship between Taiwan and the Republic of South Africa. Taiwan and South Africa established diplomatic ties in 1949. The ties lasted and grew throughout the apartheid-era in South Africa and officially ended in January 1998 when South African President Nelson Mandela recognized the People's Republic of China. Despite the recognition of the PR China, Taiwan and South Africa maintained a trade relationship.

Chinese South Africans[edit]

Chinese South Africans are an ethnic group of Chinese diaspora in South Africa. They and their ancestors immigrated to South Africa beginning during the Dutch colonial era in the Cape Colony. Among the Chinese South Africans are Taiwanese businesspeople who settled in South Africa during the apartheid era.[1]

Taiwanese relations with apartheid South Africa[edit]


Relations were established in 1949 and grew considerably in 1971 after United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758 withdrew international recognition of the Republic of China in favor of the People's Republic of China. South Africa had previously maintained cool relations with Taiwan due to fears that closer relations would increase mainland China's support for the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, a liberation movement which already had ties to Communist China.[2]:511 Trade and political relations grew until the 1990s, when Nelson Mandela withdrew recognition of the ROC in favor of the mainland PRC. In 1976, both South Africa and Taiwan upgraded their consulates to full embassy status. Both shared a similar international worldview, with the Taiwanese ambassador to South Africa H. K. Yang noting, "South Africa and my country are joined in the fight against communism. We are in favour of free enterprise, democracy and freedom".[2]:511 Relations expanded in the 1980s with South African leader P. W. Botha visiting in 1980 as Prime Minister and in 1986 as State President. Vice President of Taiwan Hsieh Tung-min was present when the 1983 South African Constitution was inaugurated.[2]:512


Taiwan and South Africa cooperated significantly in the military arena. In 1980, the two countries signed an agreement for Taiwan to send South Africa a total of 4,000 tons of uranium over six years. Taiwan, South Africa, and Israel shared nuclear technology during this period.[2]:512


In 1970 total two-way trade between South Africa and Taiwan amounted to US$7 million, by 1972 total two-way trade amounted to US$57 million with the balance strongly in South Africa's favour. This initial increase was due to strong South African exports of maize to Taiwan in 1971.[3]:155

In 1975, the two governments signed a trade agreement which expanded trade relations considerably. In 1985, 69% of Taiwanese imports from South Africa were either minerals or metals, while South Africa primarily imported textiles (27%) and machinery (22%). Taiwan, along with other newly industrialized Asian countries Hong Kong and South Korea, invested heavily in the internationally unrecognized bantustans of Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Ciskei and Venda.[2]:509 Trade relations grew rapidly in the late 1980s; in 1986, trade volume totaled $546 million and a year later, it totaled $911 million, an increase of 67% in one year.[2]:512 As of 1989, 2,000 visas had been issued for South African and Taiwanese businesspeople to visit and conduct business in each other's countries. In 1987, Taiwan had $100 million invested in the South African economy. In 1996, South Africa estimated that it received approximately $80 million a year in aid from Taiwan.[4] Included in that were scholarships for 15 South African students in Taiwan, a small business development project, a vocational training school and agricultural programs. South Africa also owed Taiwan approximately $50 million.[4]


Taiwan and South Africa established several cultural exchanges in the 1980s; in 1984, South African General Johann Coetzee was awarded the Yun Hai medal of Taiwan for promoting the "traditional friendship and military cooperation" between the two countries. In 1987, an exchange program was established between the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra and the Taipei Arts Festival.[2]:512

Post-apartheid relations and derecognition[edit]


The fall of the apartheid regime and the resulting democratic elections of 1994 considerably changed Taiwan's relations with South Africa. The Taiwanese government was aware that the new ANC lead government was unlikely to look favourably on the Taiwanese government, given its support for apartheid South Africa during the years before 1994. In an attempt to improve relations with the new government the Taiwanese government embarked on a public relations campaign. Spending millions of dollars on flying out government officials, parliamentarians and representatives from South Africa's political parties to show them around the island, even going as far as first donating US$10 million followed by another US$5 million donation to the ANC's election campaign in 1994.[3]:165

Despite having some initial success the South African government was concerned how its relationship with Taiwan would affect its trade and diplomatic operations in the region after the British handover of Hong Kong in 1997. The South Africans feared that after the hand over Beijing might force the closure of South Africa's consulate and the country would no longer be allowed to use the city as a transit route for air traffic and trade with the rest of the region.1976 to 1998[5] Additionally the leadership of the South African Communist Party, many of whom held important positions in the new government, were strongly in support of shifting recognition to the People's Republic of China.[3]:168-169

In December 1996, South Africa announced it would end relations with Taiwan in favour of the People's Republic of China in January 1998; a visit by Foreign Minister John Chiang to meet with Alfred Baphethuxolo Nzo and attempt to salvage the situation produced no results, and so in response, Taiwan immediately canceled all aid programs and recalled its ambassador to South Africa, Gene Loh.[4][6]

In November 1997, South African military attache McGill Alexander was taken hostage along with his family in their Taipei home by a fugitive murderer; Alexander and his daughter were accidentally shot, but the situation was resolved without loss of life.[7][8]


Despite the derecognition of Taiwan, the two countries maintained trade relations; As of 2010, the Bank of Taiwan still maintained a branch in South Africa[9] and in 2010 Taiwan ranked as South Africa's 16th largest importer, with goods totaling over 5.9 million rand ($861,000).[10]


  1. ^ What color are Chinese South Africans?, June 19, 2008
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Taiwanese Investment in South Africa by John Pickles and Jeff Woods, African Affairs, October 1989
  3. ^ a b c Scholtz, Werner. Wolvaardt, Pieter. Wheeler, Tom. (2010). From Verwoerd to Mandela: South African Diplomats Remember, Vol 2. South Africa: Crink. ISBN 978-0-620-45459-9. 
  4. ^ a b c Taiwan, Snubbed by South Africa, Ends Aid and Recalls Envoy New York Times, December 6, 1996
  5. ^ "Taiwan loses a major ally". BBC News Online. 1997-12-30. Retrieved 2007-06-07. 
  6. ^ Chu, Monique (2002-04-18). "Veteran diplomat tells it like it was". Taipei Times. Retrieved 2012-10-27. 
  7. ^ Frazier, David (18 February 2001). "A brush with evil". Taipei Times. Retrieved 23 July 2012. 
  8. ^ "Armed siege ends in Taiwan". BBC. 19 November 1997. Retrieved 23 July 2012. 
  10. ^ South African Trade by COUNTRY (Rand '000) South African Department of Trade and Industry