The visit’s outcomes so far:
– Exports of meat and seafood to mainland China
– Namibia to participate in Chinese space programme
– N$5.6 billion grant agreed
– Construction of Namibia’s space data receiving station
– Relations elevated to China-EU level
– Ease access to funding
Namibia’s international relationship with China has now been elevated to the engagement level China has with the European Union, a development birthed by President Hage Geingob’s seven-day visit to that country last week.
Prior to the visit, whispers in the Namibian corridors of power thundered around the highly ambiguous cliché of “all-weather friends”, as the two nations called each other, saying the phrase lacked modernity, energy and swag.
If claims that President Geingob went to China with a proverbial begging bowl were an April Fool’s banter, the elevation in relations between the two countries speaks volumes that this was no ordinary visit.
During the third session of the Joint Commission on Bilateral Economic and Trade between Namibia and China –
chaired by the two foreign ministers – it was agreed to elevate the relationship to one of China’s highest level in its international relations and engagements with other countries. And for a country whose international limelight often evades, this is no ordinary feat. This new level of engagement would allow Namibian military personnel to have a greater participation in the Chinese space programme, training of more Namibian engineering and science students in space science, and enable Namibia to expand its remote sensing and earth observation capabilities.
The two countries also signed an agreement for RMB300 million, or N$5.6 billion, that would be used to implement the construction of a data receiving station in Namibia, build four schools and other projects that would be mutually agreed, said international relations minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah. “With these facilities Namibia would be able to monitor its seas, improve disaster management and improve urban planning and monitor its environment,” says Nandi-Ndaitwah, who herself was in China for the negotiations.
Higher education minister, Dr Itah Kandjii-Murangi, says currently the Namibian Defence Force and military are engaged in the control and conduct of China’s space launches to and from space, from the Chinese space tracking station command in Swakopmund. “They are doing quite well. They are involved in the control of [space missions] to and from space and as they come back to earth, during launches by China’s [Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center],” said Kandjii-Murangi yesterday. Furthermore, science and engineering students at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST)’s space science programme now have an opportunity to receiving training in environmental and pre-casting of drought and other natural disaster prevention methods.
The signing of the protocol on inspection, quarantine and veterinary requirements would see Namibia become the first African country allowed to export beef, mutton, and seafood to China.
Nandi-Ndaitwah, along with Minister of Finance Calle Schlettwein and Attorney General Dr Albert Kawana, was yesterday at pains to point out that the elevation of the diplomatic engagement between the two countries has greater significance for Namibia.
Nandi-Ndaitwah says for Namibia the meaning of a “comprehensive strategic cooperation partnership with China will become more clear to ourselves and citizens as time goes on”. But the new engagement encompasses economic, political, cultural and other exchanges of ideas aimed at development in both countries, she says.
“It is a question of cooperation between partners, a win-win between the two countries. It’s not a question of big and small, rich or poor,” she said, adding that agreements just signed would be subject to continuous strategic interventions to follow up and ensure the programmes benefit both countries. “As time goes on we will be able to see its [new level of engagement] impact,” she says. She points out that China is a fast growing economy and soon it could become the biggest economy in the world, and that the whole world, including developed countries, are looking at China for business. “Namibia as a country has to be strategic not to be left out,” she says.
“Namibia can benefit from deepened financial cooperation targeted towards industrialisation and improved productive capacity,” added Nandi-Ndaitwah.
Kawana says the negative sentiments from the public is ill-informed given that Europe and the USA have long ago started trading with China, and are now the biggest trading partners of China. “There was a time when if you wanted to study Chinese at a university in Europe or the USA, it would be difficult, because everyone was preparing for the Chinese market,” he says.
Schlettwein was particularly emphatic in dismissing the public sentiments towards the state visit, especially the notion that Namibia went borrowing money from China, with some warning that too much reliance on China would result in China’s re-colonisation of Africa. “China never colonised Africa, it was the Europeans, so that term is wrong,” he says.
“Namibians are sometimes very negative. Who eats uranium here? Who eats uranium? We want to develop our rural areas where there is no electricity. But just talk about nuclear [power reactor], it is a taboo,” Kawana said on what he calls the public misconceptions and false information regarding Namibia and her relationship with China.