Why is S. Africa war-gaming with China and Russia?

STORY: In South Africa's Richards Bay, Chinese soldiers stand guard.

Nearby a Russian soldier polishes the "V" - a letter used by Moscow to promote war of Ukraine - on a military ship.

Vessels from both countries were docked here on Monday (February 20) ahead of joint naval exercises.

South Africa says the drills are "routine".

But the backdrop is world powers vying for influence in Africa.

That's in part due to what Russia calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine.

It's also because of an increasingly aggressive Chinese posture towards self-ruled Taiwan.

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

South Africa has rejected any criticism - pointing to similar exercises held with other international partners such as France.

It says it maintains a neutral stance on the Ukraine conflict and abstained from voting on a U.N. resolution last year condemning Russia.

But with Russia and China seeking to forge new international coalitions, an anti-colonial history is coming to the fore.

South Africa's ruling ANC has long-standing ties to Moscow, which supported its struggle against a racist apartheid regime that many Western countries had considered to be a Cold War ally.

South Africa also greatly values its place within the BRICS bloc alongside Russia, China, India and Brazil.

It supports Beijing's plan to expand membership and increase clout.

China is also the continent's top bilateral trading partner.

The EU, however, is by far the largest market for South African exports.

Two-way trade with the EU amounted to around $53 billion, last year according to South African data.

That compares with $750 million with Russia - 1.4% of the EU figure.

Domestic critics of South Africa's push to deepen ties with Russia and China point to the economics.

Kobus Marais, of the opposition Democratic Alliance, said it is a "slap in the face of our trading partners to be this clearly on the side of Russia on the anniversary of the invasion."

"We are," he added, "the useful idiots."