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S.Africa, China, Russia Drills Danger to West Relations: Analysts

FILE - South Africa's Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor shakes hands with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, ahead of their bilateral meeting in Pretoria, January 23, 2023.

Political analysts labelled a joint naval exercise between South Africa, Russia, and China as risky and further expressed fears of the drills endangering important relations with Western partners.

The three-nation joint 10-day naval exercise was due to launch Friday and has fueled domestic criticism from opposition figures who have called on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration to pull out or risk jeopardizing relations with the west.

In a statement released last month, South Africa’s defense ministry spoke on their relations with their eastern partners.

“South Africa, like any independent and sovereign state, has a right to conduct its foreign relations with its…national interests,” read the defense ministry’s statement.

Despite the position taken by authorities, political analysts argue that the 10-day Mosi II exercise is dangerous for South Africa because it coincides with the Feb. 24 anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Kobus Marais, the head of the opposition Democratic Alliance said the government position is an insult to the nation’s trading partners.

“It is a slap in the face of our trading partners to be this clearly on the side of Russia on the anniversary of the invasion,” said Marais.

Steven Gruzd, an expert with the South African Institute of International Affairs said the nation will lose a lot if it participates in the drills.

“These exercises are going to be a lightning rod,” said Gruzd.

“I’m not sure South Africa really realizes the potential backlash,” he added.

Gruzd’s sentiments were echoed by a European ambassador.

“Some companies have asked us if it is still safe to engage with South Africa for business, because they fear possible consequences,” said the ambassador.

Cobus van Staden, an expert with the China-Global South Project said Russia and China remain influential in South Africa and across the continent due to their historical.

“Russia’s and to a lesser degree China’s, posture as an anti-colonial ally still resonated in much of Africa, even if others may now view it as ancient history,” said van Staden.