The ambiguous commitment: The People's Republic of China and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa

Ian Taylor

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19 Citations (Scopus)


The involvement of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa was based on support for the liberation organizations fighting the regime in Pretoria. However, Sino-Soviet tensions meant that Beijing was effectively barred from involving itself in the international relations of the main liberation group - the African National Congress (ANC) - from the mid-1960s until the end of the 1980s and instead found itself supporting the largely ineffective Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC). Beijing was thus unable to play a major part in the liberation struggle in South Africa - unlike the role it played in Angola or Zimbabwe (Taylor 1997a). Support was largely confined to rhetorical exhortations and condemnatory denunciations of Pretoria. This served Beijing's purpose in that China was never able to compete with the USSR in the supply of material aid. Yet, by involving itself in a high-profile (though relatively low-level) commitment to the liberation of South Africa, China was able to pose as a concerned member of the developing world and also gain prestige from its reflected glory in being seen to aid the oppressed in Africa. At a time when China was excluded from the United Nations by the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC), and when the African vote was increasingly important in the same institution, the tactical aim of winning African support to replace Taipei cannot be dismissed. Involvement in the liberation campaign in the 1960s hence was not simply selfless internationalism on the part of Beijing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-106
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Contemporary African Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2000


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