While welcoming the amount of attention being paid by Chinese enterprises to Africa, Mr Mbeki expressed concern that cheap Chinese production of goods such as textiles and shoes could undermine the continents weak industrial base.
The South African leader said he expected Chinese companies to be interested in buying South African concerns but that government-to-government talks might be necessary to resolve fears in his country of any negative consequences.
It is clear that the Chinese will invest on the African continent in all sorts of ways in the first instance in raw materials, energy and other things, he said. They are making capital and expertise available for general infrastructure development. This co-operation results in our development. But there might be other elements that might have obverse results.
As far as South Africa was concerned, Mr Mbeki expressed confidence that the two sides would talk to each other about any possible concerns over Chinese acquisitions in sectors such as mining or manufacturing. I am sure that they would be interested in South African companies, he said. I suspect that in the event that the South African government would say we do not believe this kind of action?.?.?.?is in our interest, and it can only spoil relations, the Chinese would positively respond.
China has stepped up its hunt for mineral resources in Africa to feed its fast-expanding economy, including energy investments in Nigeria, Sudan and Angola. South African mining executives have seen strong demand for their products from China, particularly iron ore, and see the Chinese as future joint venture partners in exploiting new mining ventures across the continent.
But concerns have been expressed by South African trade unions at the prospect of Chinese investment and trade competition. Mr Mbeki said the right place to discuss such concerns was in the China-Africa forum, due to be held in November.
It gives a possibility for the African continent and China to discuss and define the nature of the relationship, he said. There is a global problem with clothing and textiles and shoes which impacts on everybody. He said both sides needed to agree how to protect Africas weak industrial base from cheaper goods coming from China.
Mr Mbeki was in London for bilateral talks with Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, and government ministers, where he raised concerns about the lack of progress in the World Trade Organisations Doha round of trade talks. He said it was essential the trade talks be on the agenda of the Group of Eight industrialised nations summit in St Petersburg in July, where he will be attending as a representative of developing nations, alongside China, India, Brazil and Mexico.
It is quite clear that the process is not going well at all, he said. Sometimes you get a response with the Europeans saying they will move if the Americans move, and the Americans say they will move if the Europeans move. And both say they will move if the developing countries move.
I am saying that you have [at the G8] the people who are central to these issues. If everyone could be motivated and encouraged to come to St Petersburg with a view to really moving on, there would be movement on this at the WTO.
Mr Mbeki also expressed concern at the escalation of tensions over Irans nuclear programme, and called for the issue to be negotiated in the International Atomic Energy Agency rather than at the United Nations Security Council. By treaty, Iran is entitled to enrich uranium under the supervision of the IAEA, he said. We think it is necessary to respect international treaties.
He challenged the US and others who claim Iran is developing nuclear weapons to produce evidence to prove it. We cannot arbitrarily take away their right [to enrich uranium] on the basis of a suspicion we cannot prove. But Iran must also respond to those concerns with more confidence-building measures, and submit all its work to IAEA inspection.
On Zimbabwe, Mr Mbeki said the UN held the key to restoring political stability. He backed a planned visit by Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, to Harare, to lay the foundations for a recovery programme to rescue an economy decimated by high unemployment and rampant inflation.
Afrikan Rain falls
A DULL boom shook the misty bamboo forests of Guangde county, 125 miles southwest of Shanghai, last Sunday, and a plume of smoke rose in the sky, causing Chinese villagers to look up in alarm from their tasks.
Within 24 hours China officially admitted that a military aircraft had crashed, that President Hu Jintao had ordered an investigation and that state honours would be bestowed on the victims. Security teams sealed off the area, carting away the charred remains of 40 people and collecting wreckage with painstaking care. It looked like a routine military accident. In fact the crash would reverberate all the way to Washington and Tel Aviv, revealing details of a covert Chinese espionage effort to copy Israeli technology in an attempt to match the United States in any future air and sea battle.
The first clues were given by two Chinese-controlled newspapers in Hong Kong, Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po. On Monday they printed articles disclosing that the plane was a Chinese version of the formidable Airborne Warning and Control System (Awacs) aircraft flown by the United States to manage air, sea and land battles. They indicated that it was a Russian Ilyushin four-engined cargo jet, rebuilt to house a conspicuous array of radars and codenamed KJ-2000. The doomed flight, they implied, had been a test mission.
The disaster robbed China of 35 of its best electronic warfare technicians, according to sources in Hong Kong. There were also five crew members on board.
With memories fresh in Beijing of a Boeing 767 bought for the use of former president Jiang Zemin and found to be riddled with eavesdropping devices, there were bound to be suspicions of sabotage. The Communist party showed how seriously it took the crash by entrusting the inquiry to Guo Boxiong, vice-chairman of the partys central military commission, who handles sensitive security matters. It was without question a calamity for the Chinese military. But for the Americans, who lost a spy plane forced down by a Chinese interceptor jet in 2000, it was not a cause for sincere mourning. The US Seventh Fleet is ranged off the Chinese coast, in constant contact with Chinese planes and submarines probing its readiness to defend the self-ruled democracy on Taiwan.
Both America and Taiwan spend undisclosed billions trying to penetrate the wall of secrecy that surrounds Chinas military build-up, which was criticised once again last week by Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary. Spies from Taiwan are known to have scored remarkable successes. In one recent case reported by The Washington Post, they placed in their presidents hands the proceedings of a secret standing committee meeting on Taiwan policy within days of its taking place.
American intelligence, by contrast, concentrates on a war fought with science and stealth to preserve its technological advantage.
For as long as the Chinese have tried to buy, steal or copy high-grade military technology at least since the early 1990s the CIA and the White House have sought to frustrate them. China relies on foreign know-how. British propellers from the Dowty company are fitted to its Y-8 early warning aircraft and radars made by Racal Electronics are installed on its naval surveillance planes.
But the crown jewels of electronic warfare are made in America, which means that Chinas hunger for secrets can be exploited by its foes. Late in the cold war, the CIA supplied faulty computer items to the Soviets, which resulted in death and destruction. So suspicions of treachery in Beijing are bound to be reinforced by the tale of intrigue and deception that unfolded upon examination of what led to the fatal end of the KJ-2000.