People-to-people exchanges between South Africa, China on fast track

China-South Africa relations are expected to be lifted to new heights with increasing cultural and people-to-people exchanges between the two BRICS countries.

Lucas Banda, an international relations expert at the Midrand University, cited the tourism sector as a highlight of the trend.

"Chinese arrivals were up 93 percent in 2016," Banda told Xinhua.

Chinese tourists to South Africa increased by 56 percent during the period from January to October in 2016 compared to a year earlier, showed data from South Africa's tourism research institute.

"The cooperation between China and South Africa is expected to surge this year because of the bilateral agreement," he added, referring to the bilateral high-level people-to-people exchange mechanism launched in April.

While addressing the April conference that launched the mechanism, South Africa's Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa believes the mechanism will serve to cement relations between South Africa and China.

"Arts, culture and heritage grant us an opportunity to learn about each other's world view, belief systems and way of life of others, which is a critical part of creating a better world for all," said the minister.

Timothy Drury, an independent expert on international relations, expects the people-to-people exchange mechanism to help deepen mutual understanding as well as bilateral cooperation in sectors such as science, technology, culture, education, health, sports, and tourism.

In his eyes, the exchange mechanism will also "provide a perfect impetus to boost bilateral trade," and as a new pattern of exchanges featuring both governmental and non-governmental efforts, it is expected to attract organizations at various levels.

"South Africa has recently launched Mandarin training courses in schools to help and bolster the bilateral relationship. Communication is vital in cultural exchanges," Drury added.

South Africa, where there are many fans of Chinese martial arts and Peking opera, is among the few African countries that include Chinese teaching in its national education.

Siphamandla Zondi, a lecturer at the University of Pretoria, calls for more efforts to tap the potential in the development of people-to-people exchanges between South Africa and China.

"There is a potential to push this (people-to-people relations) to a higher level with many initiatives," said Zondi.

For example, he said interactions between the two countries' non-government organizations, community-based organizations, cultural groups, schools and musical groups should improve.

In addition, "there have to be programs and initiatives that bring peoples together. That would create access to different cultures, social lives, places and economic opportunities as they interact and bring solidarity with other people and increase knowledge," he said.

In this regard, Zondi said the high-level people-to-people exchange mechanism established between South Africa and China is helpful.

(From XInhua Net)