South African Foreign Policy: Identities, Intentions and Directions

By Masters, Lesley | Strategic Review for Southern Africa, November 2017 | Go to article overview

South African Foreign Policy: Identities, Intentions and Directions


Masters, Lesley, Strategic Review for Southern Africa


South African Foreign Policy: Identities, Intentions and Directions. David R. Black and David J. Hornsby (eds). 2017. Rout-ledge, Oxon, Index, pp. 140. [pounds sterling]100.00 (Hardback), ISBN: 978-1-138-20802-5.

The contribution of this book is significant for its focus on bilateral relations, moving beyond much of the literature that has so far focused on South Africa's broader foreign policy development and implementation, particularly in the multilateral system of governance. Given the number of bi-national commissions (BNCs) and strategic partnerships that South Africa has agreed, this is indeed an area that is in need of further interrogation in terms of its strategic value. This is what this volume aims to do in exploring the "nature and trajectory of key bilateral relationships" (preface), with countries from both the geopolitical North and South. In bringing together analysis of South Africa's bilateral relations with selected countries, the book highlights the "cross-pressures", and how Pretoria "is pulled in different directions due to its layered history... competing interests, and desired ideological positioning" (p 9).

The seven chapters assess relations between South Africa and the African Union (AU), and International Criminal Court (ICC), Japan, China, Brazil, Iran and the United Kingdom (UK). The first chapter by the editors provides the context for the subsequent chapters in addressing the role of bilateral relations and South Africa's position as an emerging middle power. Here they highlight the challenge of perceptions, held both by South Africa and internationally, of the role the country plays as a "rising power or pivotal state, a moral actor, and a middle power" (p 1). They argue that the idea of an emerging middle power, which is discussed in detail as a concept, does not adequately address the "different and contradictory levels at which South Africa identifies and operates" (p 3). By unpacking South Africa's bilateral relations, the scope is provided for a deeper understanding of South Africa's role and conception in international relations.

In chapter two J Andrew Grant and Spencer Hamilton assess South Africa's bilateral engagement with the multilateral intergovernmental organisations of the AU and the ICC. This is a complex task as South Africa has positioned itself as an integral part of these organisations. While South Africa's relations with the OAU/AU and the ICC are often discussed in the context of the foreign policy emphasis on multilateralism, this chapter sets out developments in the bilateral relationship South Africa has with these institutions and the challenge of aligning stated foreign policy principles with practice, particularly in its position on the ICC.

The long standing bilateral relations South Africa has with Japan is assessed in chapter three by Scarlett Cornelissen. She considers the macro, meso- and micro-levels in explaining the changing dynamics between South Africa and Japan through the role conceptions held by foreign policy elites. This includes assessing the symbolism emphasised during the Mandela administration, the focus and collaborative approach under Thabo Mbeki, particularly when it came to economic diplomacy and African peace and security, and the more distant relationship between the two countries under Jacob Zuma. The chapter draws on interviews with officials which brings the role of perceptions to the fore in shaping foreign policy positions.

Chris Alden and Yu-Shan Wu consider relations between South Africa and China in chapter four which, as they point out, is "one of the most remarked aspects of [South Africa's] expanding international relations" (p 53). They present a detailed history of the bilateral relations including the move by South Africa to establishment diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1998 and the subsequent development of a bi-national commission. …

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