A Chinese surveillance ship that can track rocket and spacecraft launches was docked at the eastern port of Durban this week, less than two months after South Africa drew the ire of Western nations by holding naval exercises with China and Russia.
The presence of the Yuan Wang 5, which is now heading west, has previously raised concern among China’s geopolitical rivals. In August, India objected when Sri Lanka allowed the ship to dock at its Hambantota port.
The docking of the vessel may add to fears that South Africa is moving closer to China and Russia, even though the bulk of its total trade is with Western nations. South Africa’s biggest single trading partner is China, but its flows with Russia are negligible.
“We don’t think further than our noses about future consequences,” Kobus Marais, defence spokesman, for the Democratic Alliance, said in an interview. “It’s a concern. Why would she dock, and why is she around?
On 3 April, the DA criticised a decision to allow Iranian warships to dock in Cape Town.
The presidency said it didn’t track the docking of ships on a day-to-day basis and referred queries to the defence department and state port operator. Neither responded immediately to queries, while the department of international relations & cooperation referred queries to the department of transport, which didn’t immediately respond. Calls to the Chinese embassy in South Africa weren’t answered.
South Africa has courted criticism from the US and its allies for refusing to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and holding the naval exercise off its east coast in February over the first anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict. Pretoria is currently contemplating whether to allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend a Brics bloc summit that it will host in August. — Antony Sguazzin and Prinesha Naidoo, (c) 2023 Bloomberg LP