‘Hat of Neo-Colonialism Can Never Fall on China’

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Chinese Ambassador to Namibia Liang Yinzhu invited members of the media to an interview on the eve of President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s upcoming visit to China in early November. Ambassador Liang addressed a wide range of issues, including the negative coverage the Chinese business community has recently received via the local media. Liang is a veteran diplomat with 17 years’ experience in Africa, having previously served six years in Ghana, four in Zimbabwe and four in Nigeria. He was appointed China’s Ambassador to Namibia in August 2003. Mbatjiua Ngavirue reports: Q: How would you characterize relations between China and Namibia? A: The two countries share an ‘all-weather’ friendship, which is tested by history. While Namibia was struggling for independence, China rendered help to Namibia within its capacity, despite its own underdevelopment. After Namibia gained independence, China has continued to support Namibia in its nation-building. Last year witnessed President Pohamba’s visit to China and Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Li Changchun’s visit to Namibia. This Year, Founding President Sam Nujoma paid his thirteenth visit to China and President Pohamba will attend the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Summit. These visits have been a big driving force for the development of the friendly cooperation between China and Namibia. Secondly, bilateral economic cooperation and trade have been developing steadily with fruitful results. Since the two countries established diplomatic ties, China has undertaken projects like the Children’s Day Care Centre, low-cost houses and a pumping station at Aussenkehr. In April this year, China handed over the two regional council buildings, constructed with Chinese grants, to Namibia. Work on the new State House residence is to start soon. Bilateral trade has been surging. In 2005, bilateral trade volume stood at US$136-million, marking a new historic high. Investment has kept increasing, with Chinese investment in Namibia totalling US$30-million by the end of last year. Mutually beneficial cooperation has continued and has now extended to railways and telecommunications Thirdly, exchanges and cooperation in such areas as culture, education, public health, justice, human resource training and tourism have been strengthened. Q: How many Chinese people are in Namibia? A: There is no detailed information on the number of Chinese businessmen in Namibia. But I would like to take this opportunity to brief you on the basic situation of Chinese nationals in Namibia. In the early 1990s, when Namibia had just gained independence, there were still very few Chinese businessmen in Namibia as a result of their inadequate knowledge of the country. Since the mid-1990s, with China’s reform and opening up, as well as its economic development, relations between China and Namibia have been strengthened continuously. The enhanced understanding of Chinese citizens of Namibia has led to the ever-increasing engagement of Chinese businessmen in trade and project construction in Namibia. In the early part of the decade, Malaysian investors established the Ramatex factory in Namibia, which employed quite a number of Chinese workers. The year 2003 saw the number of Chinese workers at that factory exceed 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000, and Chinese nationals in Namibia reached an historical high. From then on, the number of employed Chinese workers at the factory has kept decreasing, with about 150 left now. At present, the Chinese Embassy has no accurate statistics on the number of Chinese citizens in Namibia. Estimates from different sources vary widely – between 5ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 and 20ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000. I for one do not believe there are so many Chinese here. According to the latest statistics of the Chinese Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Namibia, there are around 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 long-term resident Chinese citizens. Apart from that, there are some experts and project technicians here engaged in project construction. They come when there is work to do, and leave when their work is completed. They number between 300 and 400 at the most, and several dozen at the least. The latest figure of Chinese nationals in Namibia released by the Chinese Chamber of Industry and Commerce is around 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 500. Q: In terms of job-creation, how many job opportunities have Chinese businesses so far created for Namibians? A: The Chinese Embassy has no statistics in this regard, but we plan to compile basic statistics about that in future. However, there is no doubt that Chinese businessmen employ more local citizens than Chinese. The Chinese brick plant in Mariental has nine Chinese managerial and technical personnel and 86 local workers. China Jiangsu International Company hires about 100 Chinese and 400 locals when their work is at its peak. A bedding factory, built by the Chinese, employs eight Chinese and 123 locals. Q: There has been criticism that some members of the Chinese business community are engaging in illegal activities. For example, some of them do not follow legal procedures when importing their goods for business. Is the Embassy aware of these activities? And what is it doing about it? A: We have noticed and attached great importance to the coverage of irregularities of some Chinese companies and businessmen. The Chinese Government has all along requested Chinese companies and businessmen to abide by local laws, reside and trade legally, respect the customs of locals and get on well with them. Our Embassy informs Chinese companies and businessmen of problems on a regular basis, in particular when there is negative media coverage on them. They are also requested to set wrongs right. However, apart from the need to familiarize themselves with local laws and rules, Chinese companies and businessmen should overcome the difficulties arising from the differences in culture, management belief and mode of doing things, as well as language communication. Some Chinese companies and businessmen did not quite get acquainted with local realities and just copied their past practice and experience which helped them succeed in China to the Namibian market, leading to the occurrence of some problems. In this regard, it takes some time for Chinese companies and businessmen to deal with these problems. With regard to the irregularities in the activities of Chinese companies and businessmen, some people criticized them out of goodwill and hoped they would correct what they were doing. We appreciate this, as it will be beneficial for their future development. But there are others who want to maintain their monopoly over the local market by edging out their Chinese counterparts. Q: Recently the Namibian Police confiscated goods sold by Chinese businessmen because they were either illegally imported or being sold by businesses that were not authorized to sell these items. Is the Embassy perhaps involved at some point in assisting the Namibian Government in dealing with this situation and, if so, what is being done perhaps jointly? A: The Chinese Embassy did not know about the illegal activities of these businessmen and had no prior information of police operations. We have all along requested Chinese businessmen to abide by local laws and trade and to reside legally. We are not opposed to the Namibian police cracking down on illegal activities. It is our hope, however, that the Namibian side will take action on the basis of evidence rather than search Chinese shops and residences in an arbitrary manner. Also, we hope the police will refrain from rude behaviour. Q: There have been reports about unstable labour relations between Chinese employers and their Namibian workers. Workers complain of low wages, verbal abuse and unfair dismissals. Have some of these concerns ever been brought to the attention of the Embassy? A: There are indeed some minor disputes between Chinese employers and local employees, but not very serious. Generally speaking, they get on well with each other. Employers of other countries also have disputes with local employees. More often than not, what the media covers are not disputes between Chinese employers and local employees. I deem, however, that Chinese companies should abide by the Labour Act and other laws and regulations and treat locals nicely. If there is a clear provision on a minimum wage, Chinese companies must act accordingly. Q: Recently, there has been negative media coverage about Chinese construction companies and businessmen. What would you like to say in this regard? A: I have previously aired my views on Chinese construction companies and businessmen. At present, there are six Chinese construction companies in Namibia, mainly dealing with the construction of houses. They are very popular for low cost, good quality, quick work and high efficiency. Because of their entry, the profits of the Namibian contractors declined from 30% to 10-15%, which means that the Namibian Government can reduce its cost and afford more houses for the people. Generally speaking, their presence in Namibia is in favour of Namibia’s development and the Namibians. You can well imagine if there were no Chinese companies in the construction market, Namibians would have to spend more money on the same number of houses. The Chinese Embassy in Namibia has kept Chinese companies and businessmen informed about problems exposed by the media and requested them to set wrongs right. Q: The local media has reported that locomotives imported from China are not fit to run on Namibian railways. What is your reaction to these reports? A: We got some information from certain sources and found that the media coverage is not true. According to Namibian sources, locomotives imported from China work well in Namibia. Actually, minor problems stemming from incorrect handling of the machines have been exaggerated. Last year, a Namibian driver forgot to shut off the switch of the engine and could not stop the train, which resulted in a head-on collision between two trains. After the accident, TransNamib conducted an investigation and concluded that it was because of incorrect handling by the Namibian driver. What appeared in the coverage, however, was that Chinese locomotives do not have a safe brake system. Minister Joel Kaapanda indicated repeatedly in Parliamentary debates that Chinese locomotives are safe and of good quality. At present, Chinese locomotives only run between Windhoek and Ondangwa and between Windhoek and Walvis Bay. This is mainly because Namibian drivers have only been trained to run these two routes with Chinese locomotives, and not because Chinese locomotives do not work on other routes. On 15 July 2006, phase one of the Northern Railway Extension Project was completed and the launching of the Ondangwa Station took place. President Pohamba rode on the Chinese locomotive then. Q: What would you like to say with regard to the criticism that some Chinese companies do not abide by the Labour Act? A: We attach great importance to coverage like that. The Chinese Embassy and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry have reminded Chinese companies and businessmen of the importance of abiding by local laws and regulations. The Namibians are more than welcome to exercise supervision and to point out in good time if the Chinese violate local laws and regulations. By the way, Chinese companies and businessmen need to overcome huge cultural and language barriers and readjust their mode of operation in Namibia. Some Chinese companies and businessmen are not very clear about local customs when conducting business activities. They still rely on some methods that made them successful in China and that will undoubtedly cause some problems. Therefore, it takes time for them to learn to be local. Q: Some articles say that China plunders the resources of African countries and actually practises Neo-Colonialism. What is your comment on that? A: Since the Opium War in 1840, China was subjected to colonialist invasion for about 110 years, and the Chinese people know perfectly well the sufferings brought on by colonialism. China-Africa economic cooperation and trade are open, transparent and non-exclusive. There is oil trade between China and several African countries, but it is open, transparent and mutually beneficial. China hopes to further strengthen its cooperation with Africa in all areas to promote common development and prosperity. It is known to all how colonialists have enslaved the African people and plundered their riches in the past. China has never illegally occupied an inch of African land and has never trafficked with any African slave. Therefore, the hat of neo-colonialism can never fall on China.