(Bloomberg) -- South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will hold talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping as Pretoria considers switching the venue of an upcoming BRICS summit to avoid having to execute an international arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin if he attends.
Ramaphosa held talks with Putin on Wednesday to discuss preparations for the August gathering of heads of state from the five-member bloc, which includes Brazil and India.
“The president will make another phone call to the president of China, President Xi Jinping” this week, and will call Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “in due course,” Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, a minister in Ramaphosa’s office, told reporters Thursday after a cabinet meeting. For now, plans to hold the summit in Johannesburg remain unchanged, she said.
South Africa’s preparations for hosting the summit were upended by the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Putin in March alleging responsibility for war crimes in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As a signatory to the court, South Africa’s government would be obliged to detain the Russian president if he attends the BRICS gathering.
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The prospect of Putin coming to South Africa heightened investor concern that its close ties to Moscow threaten its relations with some of its biggest trading partners, including the US. America’s ambassador to South Africa last month accused Pretoria of contradicting its neutral stance on the war in Ukraine by supplying weapons to Russia, an allegation the government denied.
The geopolitical tensions have added to worries about the impact on South Africa’s economic outlook from daily blackouts and logistical constraints that are hampering exports, with the rand falling to successive record lows last month. The currency has pared some of those losses in June.
An inter-ministerial committee led by deputy President Paul Mashatile that’s looking into the repercussions of a Putin visit met this week to finalize a report on the government’s options, according to a person familiar with its deliberations who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public. Legal opinions sought by the government didn’t identify any potential loopholes around the ICC warrant, they said.
Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana urged officials at the meeting to deal with the matter urgently to calm the markets, and is in favor of the BRICS summit moving to China, the person said. A spokesperson for the finance ministry referred Bloomberg’s request for comment to a cabinet spokesperson, who didn’t immediately respond.
China isn’t a member of the ICC, meaning Putin could travel there without fear of arrest. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang told his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor in a phone call this month that his nation is prepared to support South Africa in hosting a successful BRICS summit.
Chinese State Councilor and Minister of Public Security Wang Xiaohong met with South African Police Minister Bheki Cele in Beijing on Thursday, Xinhua reported. China is ready to work with South Africa to strengthen security at the BRICS summit and elsewhere, and push for the development of a comprehensive strategic partnership between the two nations, the news agency cited Wang as saying.
South Africa’s government drew international criticism in 2015, when it refused to execute an ICC arrest warrant for then-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who had been indicted for war crimes and genocide, while he was attending a meeting of African leaders in Johannesburg. South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that the government had acted unlawfully and the ICC said it failed to comply with its international obligations.
South Africa and five other African nations last month proposed a new initiative to help bring an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Ntshavheni said Ramaphosa intends traveling to both countries to try and understand the preconditions for getting them to the negotiating table.
Ramaphosa held talks June 5 with other African leaders involved in the initiatiave, including Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Senegalese President Macky Sall, Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. The heads of state are available to travel to Ukraine and Russia in mid-June, the presidency said.
Pretoria would be willing to hold a peace summit between officials from the two countries, including their presidents, were they to attend, she said.
--With assistance from Nasreen Seria.
(Updates with timing of planned trip by African presidents in penultimate paragraph.)
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