BRI has increased the efficiency of global trade

A tourist prepares to pay for a ziplining course with Alipay in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Xinhua)

China's Belt and Road Initiative is a "game changer" and "has increased the efficiency of global trade", according to a senior South African diplomat in an exclusive interview with China Daily.

By developing all its infrastructure corridors, the initiative "has really opened a new market. The economic contribution of the BRI, I think is truly phenomenal," said Charles Manuel, the minister counselor of economics at the South African Embassy to China.

A pivotal moment of cooperation between Beijing and Johannesburg came in 2014 when Transnet, South Africa's national freight and logistics group, placed a $4.7 billion order for 1,064 new locomotives with four international manufacturers, including two from China. The Chinese companies later merged to become CRRC Corp, a State-owned railway behemoth and bullet-train maker. According to the tender, China will provide 232 diesel locomotives and 359 electric locomotives.

The first two six-axle diesel locomotives for Transnet rolled off the production line at CRRC's Dalian plant in March 2016 and, after two months at sea, they were delivered to the South African coastal city of Durban and put into use. But that was just the start, as in line with South Africa's commitment to boosting its own manufacturing capacity, most of the ordered locomotives will be built at local plants in Pretoria and Durban that are operated by Transnet itself. As of July last year, 305 locally assembled locomotives had already been delivered, Xinhua reported.

"The Chinese, within a short space of time, have done what the European Union and the United States failed to do over years, in terms of skills transfer and some of the things we never dreamed we would have," said Thamsanqa Jiyane, who works at Transnet's chief advanced manufacturing office. "The Chinese have brought a new kind of partnership where they impart skills for our future use on our own."

He said the relationship with the Chinese has been very cordial, while hailing the mutual learning between Transnet and CRRC, both State-owned enterprises.

To further promote rail technology transfer and cultivate international talents between the two countries, earlier this month, CRRC launched an Overseas Joint Development Center in Johannesburg, in cooperation with South Africa's Wits University.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of China and South Africa's diplomatic relationship. For the past nine years, China has been South Africa's largest trading partner, with bilateral trade jumping 11.7 percent to 39.17 billion yuan ($5.67 billion) in 2017.

China's investments in South Africa cover a wide range of diversified fields, like energy, manufacturing and telecommunication, all prioritizing local procurement whenever possible, in support of the local economy and industrial development.

For instance, China Mobile established a branch in Johannesburg this September and will cooperate with South Africa's largest telecommunication operator MTN Group in advanced information technology, such as the construction of 5G internet.

A large-scale wind power plant built by China's Longyuan Power started operation in the Northern Cape's De Aar in November last year, and will produce 600 million kilowatt hours of green power for South Africa each year, enough to meet the electricity demands of 85,000 local residents, according to the local government.

At the embassy in Beijing, Manuel was excited to talk about the wind power plant. "Because 80 percent of our energy currently is from coal, this will help us reduce our dependence on coal," he said. "Also it will help us reduce our emissions." It has really brought a lot of benefits to the communities, he said.

"It has also injected economic revitalization into those areas. They have really revitalized that part of the world. So we're really pleased with this investment," he said.

By the end of 2017, China had invested more than $25 billion in South Africa and created hundreds of thousands of jobs for local people, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian told Xinhua. The ambassador noted that Johannesburg is championing the development of special economic zones, and has encouraged Chinese companies to invest more in South Africa.

During his interview with China Daily, Manuel said he was glad that "Africa has been brought into this Belt and Road Initiative, because as South Africans, we can see the benefits for ourselves as a result of this. I think Africa has been a major beneficiary of the BRI program.

"And we really hope that we will see more progress and faster progress with regards to the BRI, as it connects countries and nations around the world and makes trade and investment more efficient for the benefit of everyone."

Editor: 曹家宁