South Africa–Taiwan relations

Taiwan–South Africa relations


South Africa
Diplomatic Mission
Taipei Liaison Office in the Republic of South Africa Liaison Office of the Republic of 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 ending of diplomatic relations, Taiwan and South Africa continue to maintain trade relations.

In the absence of formal diplomatic relations, the two countries now have "Liaison Offices", which serve as de facto embassies. South Africa is now represented in Taipei by the Liaison Office of the Republic of South Africa.[1] Similarly, Taiwan is represented by the Taipei Liaison Office in the Republic of South Africa in Pretoria.[2] There is also a Taipei Liaison Office in Cape Town.[3]

Chinese South Africans

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.[4]

Taiwanese relations with apartheid South Africa


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 favour 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.[5]:511

South Africa first established a Consulate in Taipei in 1967, which was upgraded to a Consulate General three years later.[6] In 1976, both South Africa and Taiwan upgraded their consulates to full embassy status.[7] 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".[5]:511

Relations expanded in the 1980s with South African leader P. W. Botha visiting in 1980 as Prime Minister.[8] Earlier in 1980, former Taiwan Premier Sun Yun-suan visited South Africa.[9] Vice President of Taiwan Hsieh Tung-min was present when the 1983 South African Constitution was inaugurated.[5]:512 Botha visited Taiwan again in 1986, this time as State President.[8] Trade and political relations grew until the 1990s, when Nelson Mandela withdrew recognition of the ROC in favour of the PRC.


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.[5]: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.[10]: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.[5]: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.[5]: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.[11] This included 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.[11]


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.[5]:512


From 1980-1988 there was an intense desire to establish Academic exchanges in both countries, to this end the Minister of Education of the RSA, P.J. Clase, visited the ROC in July 1980, and the then Director-General of the Department of National Education of the RSA, J.J. van Wyk, visited the ROC in November 1980. From 1980 onward several leading South African Academics and Taiwanese academics went on several exchanges. Some of the leading academics included:[12]

Post-apartheid relations and derecognition


The fall of the apartheid regime and the resulting democratic elections of 1994 changed Taiwan's relations with South Africa considerably. 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, Taipei 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, it even went as far as making donations to the ANC's election campaign in 1994, first donating US$10 million followed by another US$5 million.[10]: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 handover of Hong Kong in 1997 to the People's Republic of China. As Hong Kong had been under British administration, South Africa was able to maintain a consulate by virtue of its diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom.[13]

South Africa feared that after the handover Beijing might force the closure of its 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.[13] In addition, 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 Beijing.[10]: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.[11][14]

Under a transitional arrangement, South Africa was able to maintain its consulate in Hong Kong for an interim six-month period, until relations with Beijing were finally established on January 1, 1998, while existing air services were temporarily retained.[15]

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.[16][17]


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[18] and in 2010 Taiwan ranked as South Africa's 16th largest importer, with goods totaling over 5.9 million rand ($861,000).[19]


  1. Liaison Office of the Republic of South Africa
  2. Taipei Liaison Office in the RSA
  3. Taipei Liaison Office in Cape Town, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Republic of China)
  4. What color are Chinese South Africans?, June 19, 2008
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Taiwanese Investment in South Africa by John Pickles and Jeff Woods, African Affairs, October 1989
  6. Foreign policy issues in a democratic South Africa, papers from a Conference of Professors World Peace Academy (South Africa), held north of Johannesburg (in Sandton), South Africa, on 20–21 March 1992, page 150
  7. The Republic Of China Yearbook 1996, David Robertson, Taylor & Francis, 1996, page 692
  8. 1 2 South African Panorama, Volume 31, South African Information Service, 1986, page 21
  9. Foreign Policy of the Republic of China on Taiwan: An Unorthodox Approach, Yousan Wang Greenwood Publishing Group, 1990, page 153
  10. 1 2 3 Scholtz, Werner. Wolvaardt, Pieter. Wheeler, Tom. Selfe, John. (2010). From Verwoerd to Mandela: South African Diplomats Remember, Vol 2. South Africa: Crink. ISBN 978-0-620-45459-9.
  11. 1 2 3 Taiwan, Snubbed by South Africa, Ends Aid and Recalls Envoy New York Times, December 6, 1996
  12. 1 2
  13. 1 2 "Taiwan loses a major ally". BBC News Online. 1997-12-30. Retrieved 2007-06-07.
  14. Chu, Monique (2002-04-18). "Veteran diplomat tells it like it was". Taipei Times. Retrieved 2012-10-27.
  15. Statement on Future South Africa/Hong Kong Relations by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Aziz Pahad, June 12, 1997
  16. Frazier, David (18 February 2001). "A brush with evil". Taipei Times. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
  17. "Armed siege ends in Taiwan". BBC. 19 November 1997. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
  19. South African Trade by COUNTRY (Rand '000) Archived 2009-12-16 at the Wayback Machine. South African Department of Trade and Industry
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