Most present-day assessments of South Africa's ties with Asia focus on the country's relationship with the People's Republic of China (PRC). This is in the context of recent closer economic engagement between China and the wider African continent, and pronounced investments by China in some of South Africa's strategic sectors. Diplomatic interaction between the two countries has also deepened and become more distinctive, as signified by the conclusion of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement in 2010.
Yet there are important dynamics in the economic and political relationships between South Africa and other Asian countries that are often disregarded. Connections between South Africa and India, Indonesia and Malaysia, for instance, have been forged through major processes of migration, settlement and cultural interlinkages that significantly shaped South Africa's political economy and sociocultural setting over the years, and that continue to be major influences in the relations among the countries. The Bandung spirit, further, has been a pervasive force in diplomatic ties between post-apartheid South Africa and those states.
There is also relatively little exploration of South Africa's links with other north-east Asian states beyond China, despite a lengthy and important history of economic and political interaction and, in the contemporary era, new types of engagement. Diplomatic ties between South Africa and Japan, for instance, date back more than a hundred years, and Japan has been an influential investor in South Africa's economy since the 1970s. After the end of apartheid, Japan continued to be one of South Africa's leading trade partners. Although its economic role has been smaller, South Korea has been another significant actor from the north-east Asian region. Outward expansion in recent years by Korean multinational enterprises such as Samsung, Hyundai and Kia has come to influence the corporate and consumer landscape in South Africa in important ways.
This chapter discusses the patterns and dynamics in South Africa's ties with north-east Asia, centring on the three major powers of that region: China, Japan and South Korea. First, the three countries are the principal economies in their region and they have large investment footprints in Asia and beyond; China and Japan are respectively the second and third largest economies in the world (with China's economic output originally eclipsing Japan's in 2010).