South Africa drills with Russia, China alarm West

STORY: South African joint naval exercises with Russia and China have fuelled domestic criticism and alarm from Western allies.

On Friday (February 17) this Russian frigate, armed with a new generation of hypersonic cruise missile called the Zircon, docked in Durban.

South Africa calls the drills "routine".

But six South Africa-based diplomats - all from NATO or EU countries - told Reuters they condemned them.

World powers are vying for influence in Africa as global tensions deepen, as a result of both the war in Ukraine and an increasingly aggressive Chinese posture towards self-ruled Taiwan.

Some African nations are refusing to take sides.

South Africa, which says it maintains a neutral stance on Ukraine, abstained from voting on a U.N. resolution last year condemning Russia.

Analysts said hosting the 10-day exercise, which coincides with the one-year anniversary of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, is a risky strategy.

President Vladimir Putin has called the Zircon, which can travel at more than five times the speed of sound, "unstoppable".

And Russia's TASS news agency reported this month that the frigate would perform a training launch during the exercise.

Russia's defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment, and South Africa's National Defense Force has denied that report.

South Africa's governing African National Congress has long-standing ties to Moscow, which supported its struggle against a racist apartheid regime that many Western states considered a Cold War ally.

China is now Africa's top bilateral trading partner, but the EU is by far the largest market for South African exports.

Many fear Pretoria's policy could undermine its economic interests.