by SAVIOUS KWINIKA
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – BY breaking its silence over criticism around a planned multinational maritime exercise it will host, and reiterating its policy of neutrality in the Russo-Ukrainian war, South Africa has made an emphatic statement that double standards prevalent in global politics will not guide its foreign policy.
This will also not influence its solid bilateral ties the country enjoys with partners.
This in particular is the stable relations the African political powerhouse shares with Russia, whose Foreign Affairs Minister, Sergey Lavrov, was in Pretoria on Monday where he held bilateral talks with local counterpart, Naledi Pandor.
The meeting came on the back of pressure on the South African government to condemn Russia over its conflict with Ukraine. South Africa has incurred criticism in some quarters after opting for neutrality on the war that broke out in early 2022.
Pro-Western media and groups as well as opposition parties have heaped more pressure on the government of President Cyril Ramaphosa over the planned multinational maritime exercise featuring South Africa, China and Russia.
Lavrov and Pandor, as they defended the drills (named Exercise Mosi II) that South Africa will host, condemned the double standards that have preceded the exercise.
“They (United States) believe they only can have exercises all over the world, not only on their more 200 military bases around the world but at any place,” Lavrov said.
He pointed out the US and its allies –Canada and Japan- late last year conducted exercises in the South China Sea as part of their Indo-Pacific strategies. That unlike the China, Russia and South Africa exercise, the Russian minister argued, did not provoke criticism.
“I haven’t heard mass media asking questions,” said Lavrov.
“Our exercises are transparent. We, together with our partners in South Africa and China, have provided all the relevant information.”
The multilateral maritime exercise is scheduled for February 17 to 27.
Pandor reiterated remarks she made a few months ago, where she indicated that Africans need to resist is “ the impulse of wanting to direct a double standard form of international conduct to orders, ‘that what I do is ok for me but you cannot do it because you are a developing country or you are Africa.”
She denounced this as an abuse of international practice.
“All countries conduct military exercises with friends worldwide. So there should be no compulsion on any country that it should conduct them with any other partners. It’s part of a natural course of relations between countries,” Pandor said.
Exercise Mosi II will see over 350 South African National Defence Forces personnel participating alongside their Russian and Chinese counterparts.
The South African Department of Defence and Military Veterans released a strongly-worded statement moments before the bilateral talks.
“We wish to state categorically that South Africa, like any independent and sovereign state, has a right to conduct its foreign relations in line with its diplomatic relations and national interests,” the department stated.
It believes the Mosi II as an opportunity to contribute towards further strengthening the strong bonds that exist between South Africa, Russia and China.
These relations predate the formation of the Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa (BRICS) before the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“Contrary to the assertions by our critics, South Africa is not abandoning its neutral position on the Russian-Ukraine conflict,” the defence ministry stated.
“We remain firm in our view that multilateralism and dialogue are keys to unlocking sustainable international peace. We continue to urge both parties to engage in dialogue as a solution to the current conflict.”
Pandor concurred. Last year, South Africa abstained from a vote to condemn Russia at the United Nations General Assembly.
“We reiterated, as I have done publicly, South Africa’s desire that there be a diplomatic solution and that negotiations are something all of us can work towards, particularly in the context of the United Nations, which is the global institution that we all accept as the premier multilateral institution,” she said.
She spoke after meeting Lavrov, who is on a second tour of Africa.
“We reiterate that belief and continue to hold to it,” Pandor said.
Lavrov welcomed the stance taken by South Africa over the conflict whose impact has been felt globally.
“I would like to highly appreciate the position of principle of South Africa,” the foreign minister said.
“I respect the openness and the responsible approach which South Africa demonstrated on the basis of allegiance to the key national interests of its people,” Lavrov added.
He denounced as disinformation that his country was not committed to talks with Ukraine.
“Russia does not abandon talks on Ukraine,” Lavrov said.
“…but the longer the West avoids them, the more difficult the situation.”
Unlike South Africa and most of the continent, the West has sided with Ukraine, providing weaponry and funding.
– CAJ News