Upsetting the Western bloc’s efforts to isolate Moscow and Beijing, South Africa has announced that it will go ahead with its second trilateral naval exercises with Russia and China.
Although South Africa’s decision does not come as a surprise, the announcement delivers another blow to the U.S.-led West’s recent charm offensive to get the global south into their strategic fold.
Details of the planned second joint naval exercise by the Russian, Chinese and South African forces will only be available in December. However, news portal Defence Web reported Friday that the exercise is scheduled to be held in February in KwaZulu-Natal, a coastal South African province.
The first naval exercises by the three nations were held off the South African city of Cape Town in November 2019.
South Africa’s decision to go ahead with the second naval drill, coming as it does, soon after India’s participation in the multilateral military exercise “Vostok-2022” along with Russia and China, among several other nations, in September, damages Western attempts to forge a global effort to isolate Russia for its war in Ukraine, and China for its aggressive posturing in the Indo-Pacific region.
Significantly, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has seen an unprecedented pushback against pressure from Western capitals among countries in the global south who are increasingly being seen at the forefront of the rebellion against the West. At the UN General Assembly vote in March, which condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and demanded Moscow’s immediate withdrawal, of the total 35 abstentions, 17 were from African nations.
Although a majority of African countries gave the resolution their backing, the absence of resounding support has bewildered Western officials. The West has been particularly dismayed by the support Moscow received or at least the reluctance of African countries to outrightly condemn the invasion of Ukraine.
But, the support that Russia received is not surprising. While Western capitals have long neglected Africa, countries on the continent are now largely aligned with China and Russia for their political and economic partnerships.
Over the years, like Beijing, Moscow has helped strengthen its ties across the African continent through investments in mining, oil and gas production, finance, agriculture and nuclear technology despite Western displeasure.
Russia was also the largest exporter of arms to African countries for the period ranging from 2017-2021, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which offers insight into Moscow’s support base in the continent.
While Africa plays a major role in fueling China’s global ambitions, along with Russia’s goal of weakening the U.S. as the dominant global power, South Africa carries substantial heft among nations on the continent.
In September, President Biden praised South Africa as a “vital voice” on the global stage, while among African leaders, President Cyril Ramaphosa is seen as someone capable of resisting pressure from the West.
With other African nations following South Africa’s lead and refusing to fall to Western pressure on Russia, Ramaphosa raised objections to Washington’s efforts to sanction Africans doing business with Russian entities that are under U.S. sanctions. After a meeting with President Biden in September, Ramaphosa said Africans should “not be told by anyone who we can associate with.”
While the U.S. too has recently stepped up its charm offensive in Africa, Washington’s attempts at renewed engagement are faced with a degree of cynicism; for, its purpose is seen as a result of great-power rivalry rather than the need for partnership.