South Africa must tread carefully in its economic relationships to avoid being caught in the escalating tension between east and west, and more specifically China and the US. The country’s hosting, and the outcome, of the 2023 Agoa Summit should strengthen its role in diplomatic relations and contribute towards safeguarding the country’s economic interests.

From 2-4 November 2023, the US and 35 sub-Saharan African countries will meet in Johannesburg for the 20th Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum (Agoa Forum). It entails strengthening trade and investment ties between the US and sub-Saharan Africa through the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), US legislation which provides various trade preferences to eligible countries in the region.

Given Russia’s continuing war in Ukraine and its rising tension with Nato, plus the China-US trade war, tensions between east and west are high. South Africa has come under attack for its non-alignment role in the Ukraine war. It refused to support UN resolutions condemning Russia. This resulted in some US congressmen pushing for the forum to be moved out of South Africa.

The country recently hosted the 15th Brics summit, which resolved to expand the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa grouping to 11 member states. The enlargement will bolster Brics’ role as a geopolitical alternative to the west, which is dominated by the US. Might this be a direct challenge to American hegemony?

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