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China: Friend or foe?

03 December 2018 | Columns

Jessica Botes

A lot has been said about China's influence in Namibia.

There appears to be more criticisms about China's influence rather than the positive role that China is playing in our development initiatives.

On Monday, many Namibians were quite critical on social media about China's growing influence in the country in light of its recent acquisition of one of the country's largest uranium mines, Rössing Uranium Limited.

Some, however, defended the move saying that in light of the dire straits Namibia's economy finds itself in at the moment, the acquisition is a saving grace for many who may have lost their jobs due to the possible closure of the mine.

In March, Chinese president Xi Jinping and president Hage Geingob agreed to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation between the two countries. Undoubtedly Namibia has a role to play in China's ambitious global-expansion programme known as the 'One Belt, One Road' (OBOR) initiative.

This is a Chinese economic and strategic agenda which aims to increase China's economic reach by tying the two ends of Eurasia, as well as Africa and Oceania, more closely along two routes over land and over the ocean. The OBOR's basic objective is the geographical expansion of Chinese capitalism.

Namibia is not the only country 'benefitting' from China's bail-outs. The New York Times Magazine reported in 2017 that Sri Lanka has put a vast majority of its infrastructure up for sale, to relieve its debt crisis. In late July of that year, the government agreed to give China control of its deepwater port - a 70% equity stake over 99 years - in exchange for writing off US$1.1 billion of the island's debt.

Many other OBOR countries have taken on huge Chinese loans that could prove difficult to repay. For example, Chinese banks, according to The Financial Times, lent Pakistan US$1.2 billion to stave off a currency crisis, even as they pledged US$57 billion more to develop the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

China's intention with this initiative is clear, with 68 countries world-wide already in its lending and acquisitions-clutches, the OBOR seeks to create port, road, rail and telecommunications links with all paths leading to China.

But what does all of this mean for Namibia? There is a very real possibility that Chinese infrastructure development in Namibia will result in a situation in which transport links are simply created to shuttle resources out of the country, without creating opportunities for growth.

One of Namibia's biggest resources is uranium and already two of its largest uranium mines are owned by China. Uranium is not the only resource being plundered, everything from trees to donkeys have been targeted.

On the other hand, Namibia needs infrastructure development, investment in its industries and job creation. Finding the balance between what we take from China and what we give in return will be the key to the success of this relationship.

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