The new Chinese Ambassador to Namibia, Zhang Yiming (ZY), says that China is willing to work closely with relevant authorities in Namibia to combat rhino poaching and punish a few ‘rotten apples’ involved in such acts.
In this exclusive interview with the Windhoek Observer’s Sonja Smith (SS), Yiming explains his role in enhancing China-Namibia relations, why he is bothered by a number of Chinese nationals who are involved in tax evasion, poaching and other criminal acts and why China’s foreign policy differs from that of Western countries.
Below is an excerpt of that interview:
SS: You began your work as the Chinese ambassador to Namibia in August. A month later, how do you find Namibia and its people?
ZY: I am the new ambassador to Namibia, but I am not new to this country. I worked here six years ago as the deputy chief of mission in the embassy from 2009-2011, so I am familiar with everything. As the youngest country in Southern Africa, Namibia’s achievements over the past 27 years are significant. There are so many changes now in terms of development.
Namibia is one of the most dynamic countries in Southern Africa; one of the most favoured investment destinations and one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world. I observe more new buildings in the city of Windhoek. The way the country is preserving its environment so well, is astounding. I feel so lucky to return here as ambassador.
SS: Have you had an opportunity to ‘be a tourist’ in Namibia and visit some of our most famous attractions? I ask this because Namibia has made great efforts to attract Chinese tourists. What part of your diplomatic mission in Namibia involves encouraging the Chinese people to come here as leisure tourists?
ZY: Currently there are 1, 2 billion tourists in the world - part of that, 10 percent are Chinese who come to Africa, but the figures of Chinese tourists coming to Namibia alone is less than 10,000. We have a huge potential to promote tourism on behalf of Namibia. This country is one of the most attractive destinations in the world, like Cuba. Many people want to come here.
As the ambassador, I do not only promote my country, but I also promote Namibia for Chinese tourists and to the world. But with that, I need the Namibian Government’s support. Namibia has to improve its infrastructure such as having enough accomodation, facilities such as a good airport, and more efficient immigration service.
Namibia’s airport does not have Chinese language instructions and directions at the international airport terminal like European, Asian and Latin American countries have and this should be considered. The line ministries should work harder to look to the East, not only to the West for ways to attract tourism. Chinese people like shopping; they have no problem spending the money to help this economy.
Security for tourists is also very important, so this is also one of our concerns. The law enforcement agencies here need to do more by being friendlier and making tourists feel more secure.
SS: What are your plans to strengthening the bilateral relations between China and Namibia?
ZY: China and Namibia are geographically far apart, but China has always seen its relationship with Namibia as one of the priorities of its African policy. Over the years, our two countries and two [ruling] parties have maintained friendly relations. Nowadays, our relations pose some new challenges.
For example, I feel that the negative media reports in Namibia on China and Chinese people have become more frequent than before. Although the political mutual trust between our two countries remains strong, our two peoples could be much closer. I call these problems “growing pains”, which have been brought by the increasingly close cooperation between our two countries.
In addition to maintaining a high degree of political mutual trust, we should strengthen our pragmatic win-win cooperation, people-to-people exchange, as well as communication and coordination concerning regional and international affairs. The positive energy of our friendship should be constantly released.
SS: What will be your main tasks in terms of maintaining and enhancing China-Namibia relations?
ZY: The Chinese Government has repeatedly demonstrated its firm standing against wildlife crimes. China is a contracting party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora.
As early as 1993, the rhino horn trade was totally banned worldwide and the commercial trade of ivory will come to an end by the end of this year. We are willing to work closely with relevant authorities in Namibia to combat relevant crimes.
As for a few “rotten apples” engaged in criminal activities, we support the Government’s punishment against them in accordance with the law. And we are also proposing joint law enforcement actions, combining regional countries and Interpol, to break the international criminal smuggling chain.
However, it should be clear that the legitimate rights and interests of the vast majority of Chinese citizens must be protected and we should try our best not to politicise or target a certain group of people. I hope there won’t be any selective law enforcement practices.
SS: How is China assisting Namibia in terms of tackling the current economic recession being experienced in Namibia?
ZY: The difficulties of the economy are temporary. We are quite confident of the economic recovery in the near future. We would like to expand our imports of Namibian beef, perhaps mutton and seafood as well. We can have these items served on the tables of Chinese consumers once we settle some technical hiccups.
We are willing to provide diversified financing support for Namibia’s development plans; we suggest Namibia “look eastward” and strive to find opportunities from China’s economic development.
SS: How does China’s foreign policy differ to that of Western countries?
ZY: Africa has witnessed this since the first independence of an African country (Ghana in 1956), we have never colonised any African country like those western (and other countries) did and these are facts on the ground.
The relationship with Africa serves as the very cornerstone of China’s foreign policy. We advocate the development of China-Africa relationship with the principle of equality, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.
Just like President Xi Jinping has repeatedly stated, that concerning China-Africa relations we should implement policies to Africa based on sincerity, practical results, affinity and good faith”.
SS: Some Chinese nationals have been implicated in tax evasion and poor labour practices. What is the embassy doing to ensure that Chinese nationals in Namibia are not involved in such activities?
ZY: We have noticed the relevant reports. We do not deny the existence of tax evasion among some small Chinese businesses, but there are many reasons. Besides the businessmen’s weak awareness of tax laws, the law’s loopholes and slack law enforcement should not be overlooked.
We support the rule of law in Namibia, and we are also educating our citizens to comply with Namibian laws, including tax laws and labour laws. We hope relevant departments could take a constructive attitude in dealing with such cases, to take facts as the basis and laws as the criterion. Further damage to investors’ confidence should be avoided, and the good investment environment of this country should be maintained.
SS: China has been giving a lot of aid to Namibia. What is the total value of aid given to Namibia since independence and what are some of the projects that your country is actively involved in Namibia at the moment?
ZY: China has provided many billions of Namibia dollars to the Land of the Brave, among which more than 20 billion Namibia dollars are grants since its independence. Large projects funded by grants include a Youth Training Center, Hardap Aquaculture Center, Chairman Mao Zedong School, etc.
Contract projects by Chinese companies have contributed greatly to infrastructure improvements, such as China Harbor’s Walvis Bay Container Terminal project, which will make Walvis Bay an important hub on the western coast of Africa.
The two sides are currently cooperating on a large number of projects. Take Husab Uranium Mine as an example, it generates a total investment of more than US$4.8 billion.
During the construction period, it created more than 6,000 jobs. After full operation, it will lead to an extra GDP growth of 5 percent, an export increase of 20 percent and the annual taxes it pays of US$200 million.
In addition, we will increase our investment in agriculture, new energy, tourism, youth training and other projects that will create more jobs and improve people’s livelihood. And by doing that, we wish we could help Namibia achieve sustainable development.
SS: Our newspapers, radios and public conversations across the nation are full of commentary directed negatively at Chinese who are doing business or working/living in Namibia. What can be done to improve China’s image, not with the government who clearly supports China, but with regular Namibians?
ZY: This is the biggest challenge I am facing so far since my arrival in Namibia. Namibia is known for good governance, transparency, critical democracy and for free media. And speaking of the free media, it can sometimes kill people. The media must be responsible.
I never deny that some Chinese nationals involved in private business are doing such things due to many reasons such as low level of education. Those are Chinese who cannot even pronounce a single word in English or write their own names, so this situation needs some time for us to educate our people to be aware of local laws about immigration, laws on paying tax, and laws on labour. In the meantime, they must be careful that this is only a very few number of people [Chinese who break Namibian laws]. The media should not target China and project that we are all corrupt, we are not. It is ridiculous to think that. This small number of people do not represent the entire Chinese community.