China’s Ambassador to South Africa Chen Xiaodong Bids Farewell to Mzansi

South Africa - Pretoria - 27 October 2022. Chinese Ambassador Chen Xiaodong speaks to the media during the High-Level Dialogue on the 20th National Congress of the CPC. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

South Africa - Pretoria - 27 October 2022. Chinese Ambassador Chen Xiaodong speaks to the media during the High-Level Dialogue on the 20th National Congress of the CPC. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 5, 2024


Jaya Josie, adviser China Africa Center Zhejiang University International Business School (ZIBS, Adjunct Professor University of the Western Cape (UWC) & University of Venda (UniVen)

On 5 March Ambassador Chen Xiaodong, from the People’s Republic of China, hosted a farewell reception for members of cabinet and the diplomatic corps in Pretoria. Ambassador Chen has been the representative of China in South Africa over the past three and a half years and will soon leave his post as China’s Ambassador in South Africa.

In his farewell address Ambassador showed his affinity for the country by using Nguni expressions for South Africa and in his greetings - “Hello Mzansi! Sawubona”, to greet his audience. He was the sixth representative of China in the twenty-five years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Ambassador Chen was born in 1965 in Lujiang, Anhui Province in the East of China.

China was going through difficult times during this period with massive poverty and underdevelopment. Anhui was a rural province and Ambassador Chen must have grown up experiencing the same hardships that many in the audience experienced in South Africa. In the nineteen sixties, seventies and eighties the present modern infrastructure facilities did not exist and access to education and health was difficult.

Despite these difficulties the ambassador managed to finish his education and finally graduated with a master’s in business administration. From his own background Ambassador Chen must have been acutely aware of the history and struggles of South Africa and the apartheid legacy of poverty, unemployment, and inequality in the country. He arrived in the country during a difficult time for both South Africa and China as the world was caught up in the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

The Ambassador arrived in the country in September 2020 in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic and was immediately thrown into providing emergency anti-pandemic supplies to the Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation in November 2020. In 2023 President Cyril Ramaphosa remarked that while many western nations were reluctant to share their vaccines with Africa China showed a willingness to come to the aid of Africa. Ambassador Chen’s first act of diplomacy was to show China’s solidarity with South Africa.

During the turbulent period of his tenure in South Africa Ambassador Chen undertook many other acts of solidarity in support of South Africa’s efforts to address the issues of poverty and inequality. China also provided important emergency medical assistance for the South African Navy during the Covid crisis. In March 2021 he officiated at the opening ceremony of the South African National Defence College E-library that was built with China’s assistance. In April of 2021 the Ambassador was responsible for the donation of school shoes to poor communities in South Africa and, this was followed in October by a donation of other materials to the Department of Social Department.

The activities of the embassy of China and the role of Ambassador Chen in particular, speak to the close ties between China and South Africa and, has Covid-19 continued to hit hard in South Africa China continued to show solidarity and support in 2022 despite China’s own lockdown policies.

The Ambassador continued with support for disaster relief to the department of social development in April 2022 and, in May 2022 a donation to the department of basic education. On a tour of impoverished villages in South Africa in April 2023 China made a further donation to the department of social development. The embassy of China followed with other donations to the Bramely child welfare in Tshwane and the Bonwelong Primary School in Ivory Park, Midrand in May 2023 where the ambassador presented school stationery, sports equipment, and water bottles to learners.

Keenly aware of the issue of unemployment in South Africa the ambassador also motivated Chinese enterprises in South Africa to organise a job fair in April 2022. The South Africa-China Economy and Trade Association in Johannesburg, South Africa successfully hosted the Job Fair. Ministers from the office of the President of South and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) participated in the Fair.

At the Job Fair in 2022 Ambassador Chen made a key note speech where he recalled the negative impact of Covid-19 on the global economy and South Africa’s economy.

He also reminded the audience that the unemployment rate in South Africa remains persistently high and, that the fraternal and comradely ties that are the foundation of China-South Africa relations mean that China will also actively support South Africa’s economic recovery. He revealed that China and South Africa entered into bilateral agreements that the Job Fair will take forward. He said that over 100 hundred Chinese enterprises had committed to provide 20,000 jobs for South Africans in the next three years to support economic development.

Reflecting on the past Ambassador Chen said that by the end of 2021 China’s investment in South Africa was over US$25 billion that created over 400,000 local jobs. He also indicated that both sides will implement the recently signed Ten-Year Strategic Cooperation Program. He placed emphasis on cooperation in 5G, the digital economy, high-tech, e-commerce, smart cities, clean energy, and vaccine production. Ambassador Chen went on to elaborate on plans for cooperation in employment training, building of vocational centers, and providing employment assistance programs for graduates.

The cooperation agreement will also include technology transfer, skills training for local employees, increased tourism and people-to-people exchanges. This speech was the highlight of Ambassador Chen’s term of office in South Africa. He was able to capture the spirit of the South Africa-China fraternal and comradely friendship.

In his farewell speech on 5 March Ambassador Chen reminisced over his stay in South Africa and how pleased he was to experience the beauty of the country and the hospitality, friendship, and comradeship between the two countries.

He indicated that the relationship between South Africa and China consolidated in August 2023 between the two presidents will usher in a golden era in China-South Africa relations to build a South Africa-China community with a shared future. Under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative and the 10 Years Strategic Program on Cooperation there will be expanding and deepening cooperation in trade, investment, agriculture, infrastructure, 5G, new energy and other sectors of the economy.

Ambassador Chen has served China’s international relations department over many years. He has had experience in Africa, the Middle East, and the United Kingdom. He has also held important positions in China’s ministry of international relations. Since arriving in South Africa Ambassador Chen has been masterful in displaying his abilities to understand and practice the general principles of international relations.

A key principle of China’s international relations is respect, equality and mutual benefit and cooperation and, expressing the distinctive Chinese Confucian ethos and characteristics in promoting a community with a shared future for humanity. Like South Africa, among China’s principles in diplomacy is non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and respect for international laws and rules. Ambassador Chen expressed his thanks to all who made his stay in South Africa a rewarding and successful one.

He said thanks in the traditional South African way “enkosi” and, goodbye by expressing it in the typical South African township slang “sharp-sharp”. The representative of the South African government at the farewell wished him warmly in the traditional South African way of saying go well “Hamba Kahle” and wished him every success in his future work.