Namibia and China continue to strengthen their relations at the political, economic and cultural levels. The Southern Times’ Tiri Masawi speaks to Beijing’s top diplomat in Windhoek, Ambassador Zhang Yiming on what the future holds for the two countries as Namibia celebrates the 31st anniversary of its Independence on March 21.
Q: China and Namibia have long-standing bilateral relations. How has the relationship grown in terms of investments and developmental support since Namibia attained Independence in 1990?
A: China and Namibia are not only all-weather friends but also Comprehensive Strategic Co-operative Partners. Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of China-Namibia diplomatic relations, which have matured with higher mutual political trust, more vigorous pragmatic cooperation in various fields and closer people-to-people ties.
During the period of Namibia’s Independence struggle, China was one of the most reliable friends of Namibia and provided plenty of support and assistance. Since Namibia’s Independence, China has provided huge amount of grants, interest free and concessional loans to Namibia’s infrastructure construction like airport, road, bridge, schools, hospitals and so on, which have tremendously helped Namibia’s development. China has become Namibia’s largest source of foreign direct investment and largest export market. China’s single largest investing project in Africa is Husab Uranium Mine, which amounts to over US$5 billion.
In addition, our co-operation in the fields like mining, agriculture and husbandry, tourism, aerospace, and education have been on the rise over these years, injecting important momentum to our sustainable relations.
China actively carries out developmental support and bilateral economic co-operation with Namibia under the framework of Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC), South-South co-operation, and the Eight Major Initiatives.
In particular, China and Namibia signed the Belt and Road MoU in 2018. Since then, many assistance projects have made important progress such as Hosea Kutako international airport upgrading project, social housing project in Grootfontein and Gobabis, the highway of international airport project and so on.
I believe that this bilateral pragmatic co-operation will accelerate Namibia’s economic growth, promote local employment, and improve people’s wellbeing.
Teaching one to fish is better than giving him fish. China attaches importance to assist Namibia in areas like basic education, health sector, poverty alleviation and youth employment. For instance, China has aided to construct Mao Zedong Secondary School in Windhoek suburb and the on-going construction of four rural schools in the north will play important role in helping learners in remote areas.
Since 1996, China has sent 13 medical teams to Namibia. They have provided free Chinese traditional medical services to the local communities, benefiting more than 100,000 people so far.
The Youth Training Centre located at Grootfontein is the biggest training project aided by China since Namibia’s Independence.
In 2017, the Chinese Embassy in Namibia launched Chinese Ambassador Scholarship Programme to provide scholarships for excellent learners in 35 schools covering all the 14 regions of Namibia, benefiting more than 600 learners. The Panda Pack schoolbag project, initiated by China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) in 2018, has also given schoolbags and stationery donated by the Chinese public to 50,000 Namibian disadvantaged learners. And this project will continue in the future.
Q: What is the current state of Chinese investments in Namibia?
A: Investments in Namibia mainly consist of three areas.
The first is infrastructure construction. Chinese enterprises play an important part in the major program related to national welfare such as airport, harbor, road, 4G network.
The second is mining industry. Namibia boasts abundant mine resources, a unique advantage of development. The Husab Uranium Mine employs nearly 2,000 local workers and contributes five percent of Namibia’s annual GDP. Therefore, it has forcefully driven the local employment and economic development.
The third is the trade of agriculture products and other agricultural co-operation. Through our joint efforts, Namibia’s quality beef and oysters entered the Chinese market and have won the favor of Chinese consumers. In order to promote Namibia’s food production, enhance its food security and enrich people’s shopping baskets, China worked with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to execute tripartite agricultural co-operation in Kalimbeza, Zambezi region in recent years.
The Beijing High Tech Company and other Chinese companies set up green intensive demonstration farms with local partners, for planting tomatoes, millet, vegetables or raising chicken and cattle, which has brought good social and economic benefits as well. The Chinese Embassy in Namibia built 4 vegetable greenhouses for 4 regions in the north. Besides, Chinese companies also have a keen interest in new energy investment projects like seawater desalination, wind power, solar power, etc.
The Chinese investment projects in Namibia have managed to maintain their development momentum despite being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to some extent.
Q: China is now Namibia’s top export destination. What do you attribute this growth of business relations between the two countries to?
A: Since 2018, China has been Namibia’s largest export market for three consecutive years.
In 2020, Namibia’s export to China occupied 36 percent of its total export volume. Our bilateral trade volume had a bucking rising of 10.1 percent in 2020, exceeding US$781,000,000. This is due to the following reasons:
Firstly, the two Heads of State have played a leading role in planning and promoting economic and trade co-operation in person. In 2018, President Hage Geingob visited China twice. The two heads of states met three times within six months and the bilateral relations have entered a new era of Comprehensive Strategic Co-operative Partnership.
In 2018, the two governments signed up MoU to jointly build Belt and Road, paving the way for wider bilateral economic and trade co-operation.
With the focus of our two Heads of State, Namibia’s beef was exported to China for the first time in 2019 and many important projects have made progress such as the international airport upgrading project. Also in the year of 2019, China became Namibia’s biggest trade surplus country for the first time.
Secondly, Namibia enjoys political stability, sound legal system and favourable social and business environment, which attract more and more Chinese for sightseeing and investment.
Thirdly, the economic enterprises of our two countries are highly complementary. Namibia produces agricultural products like beef, oysters and has abundant mineral resources. China has huge market, complete system of manufacturing and service industries. Its mechanical and electronic products with lower prices and high quality provided much more alternatives for Namibian consumers.
The year 2021 is the first year of the Chinese government’s 14th Five-Year Plan. Expecting the new changes of our domestic and international situation in the post-pandemic era, China has put forward a “dual circulation” development pattern in which the domestic economic cycle plays a leading role while the international economic cycle acts as its extension and supplement.
With that pattern, China’s market potential will be fully tapped and the door will open even wider to the world. It is an important opportunity for Namibia’s products to be exported. I sincerely hope that in the near future, there will be more Namibian products entering China’s market.
Q: Since the broke out of COVID-19, China has been a key partner in assisting Namibia deal with the pandemic. Outline the nature of this assistance, and what other health areas is China involved in Namibia’s health sector?
A: The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc around the world since last year, and the China and Namibia governments and peoples have always been standing together to fight the virus.
When China went through its hardest time, President Hage Geingob was one of the first foreign leaders sending the letters of condolence to President Xi Jinping. Shortly after the break out of the pandemic in Namibia, China provided assistance immediately and was the first one to donate a batch of quick test kits.
The Chinese government, local sister cities, Jack Ma Foundation, Chinese enterprises in Namibia and the local Chinese communities donated more than 50 batches of anti-pandemic materials one after another, including test kits, ventilators, oxygenerators, protection suits and nearly one million masks, in a bid to help Namibia counter the pandemic. Medical experts from both sides held five video conferences to share their experience.
It can be said that China’s anti-pandemic assistance to Namibia has been the fastest, largest and most practical and most effective. In the face of the pandemic, China-Namibia traditional friendship has stood the test and become even deeper, and the people-to-people bond has become much stronger.
The pandemic has lingered in Namibia for more than one year. In order to help Namibian people beat it and resume normal living and economic orders as soon as possible. The Chinese government, as Namibia’s friend, despite many difficulties like the tight supply of vaccines, has donated 100,000 doses of vaccines to Namibia and listed Namibia among the first priority countries accessing to Chinese vaccines. Those vaccines, arriving in Namibia on 16th March, are not only a precious gift to the Namibian people on the occasion of the 31st anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Namibia, but also a vivid reflection of our all-weather friendship.
China-Namibia’s co-operation in the health sector has been a highlight in the bilateral relations all along. Since 1996, there always have been four Chinese medical workers posted in the Windhoek Katutura hospital.
They have provided free Chinese traditional medical services to the local communities and benefited more than 100,000 people around Namibia. A hospital with 70 ward beds in Omuthiya was also aided by China. In 2018 and 2019 respectively, two teams of ophthalmologists from China’s top ranking hospital came to Namibia, curing 440 patients with eye diseases like cataracts. They donated medical facilities and drugs and launched long-distance medical co-operation with the local doctors as well. During the pandemic, the governments of China and Namibia established pair-up co-operation system, enabling Walvis Bay hospital and Zhejiang Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital to be sister hospitals.
In recent years, China has tremendously expanded co-operation with AU. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention of AU, which is being constructed, is one important China-aided project. It will also benefit Namibia. We may say that China-Namibia’s co-operation in the health sector never stops and is going from strength to strength.
Q: China, as the biggest developing country in the world, has eradicated extreme poverty completely. What do you think Namibia could learn from it to address extreme poverty?
A: This February, President Xi Jinping announced that China has secured a “complete victory” in the fight against poverty and the final 98.99 million impoverished rural residents living under the current poverty line have all been lifted out of poverty. China has met the poverty eradication target set out in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 10 years ahead of schedule.
As the world’s largest developing country, such remarkable achievement China has scored not only enhances the confidence of international community to eradicate poverty, but also establishes good practice of international poverty reduction.
Over the past eight years, China has formed a set of quite sophisticated organisational and institutional systems and policies to reduce poverty and taken a series of creative and special measures, and eventually has blazed a poverty reduction trail with Chinese characteristics.
Some scholars summarised China’s achievement on poverty alleviation as “5Ds”, namely Determined Leadership, Detailed Blueprint, Development Oriented, Data-Based Governance, and Decentralised Delivery.
I would like to share the following points about it. First of all, the Chinese government puts poverty alleviation as the first priority in state governance and pools the resources of the whole country to build an nationwide anti-poverty framework from the top to the grassroots.
The second is that China has implemented the strategy of targeted poverty alleviation, effectively combining the forces of the government and the market. The government officers are supposed to adjust their focuses according to different situations of different areas so as to empower the poverty-stricken people. Thirdly, China has put emphasis on sustainable poverty reduction by changing people’s mindset and empowering them. It usually helps raise the self-sustaining ability of poor people through education, training and medical security system in order to prevent them from relapsing into poverty.
The poverty issue is a development-related one in essence. The government should vigorously boost economic growth and ensure fair, inclusive, and sustainable development and share fruits with all the people in order to realise a sound interaction between economic growth and poverty alleviation.
During the past 31 years since its Independence, Namibia has always made poverty and inequity reduction as priority in its National Development Plans. We can see from its inclusive and sustainable economic policies and ever-improving public services and infrastructure like education and health sector that the significant progress Namibian government has made on poverty alleviation and people’s welfare promotion.
China would like to share the experience on poverty alleviation with international community including Namibia. China will continue enhancing China-Namibia bilateral economic and social cooperation and supporting Namibia’s efforts on poverty eradication for the sake of the well-beings of both peoples.
Q: What is your message to the Namibian people on their Independence Day?
A: This year marks the 31st anniversary of Namibia’s Independence as well as 31st anniversary of the establishment of China-Namibia diplomatic relations. I have been posted in Namibia twice and have got the chances of visiting all the 14 Namibia’s regions.
I have made acquaintance with many friends here and personally witnessed and experienced many an important event in Namibia’s modern history. I was moved by the history when Namibian people’s fearlessly fought for independence and freedom. I can imagine the difficulties both our veteran revolutionists and fighters encountered in their darkest time and their unyielding arduous struggle.
I deeply admire the long-standing traditional friendship that both sides have maintained for decades despite our geographical distance. On the occasion of Namibia’s Independence Day, which the whole country are celebrating, I feel wholeheartedly happy and inspired.
Namibia is a young and vigorous country with infinite possibilities. As a Chinese saying goes, a man becomes mature at the age of 30. This year is exactly the starting point of a new decade and I would like to take this opportunity to present my warmest congratulations to Namibian government and its people.
I wish Namibia more prosperous and stronger year by year, wish Namibian people always live in peace and happiness, and wish China-Namibia long-standing friendship stronger and stronger in the course of realizing our common prosperity and constructing a community with shared future for mankind.