China breaks silence on 'military presence'

• Vilho's 'arrogance' remains under fire

14 September 2020 | Politics

OGONE TLHAGE

WINDHOEK



The Chinese embassy in Namibia has broken its silence on persistent allegations being raised in parliament and elsewhere of a massive Chinese military presence in Namibia, saying the allegations were not true and were “purely rumours”.


Embassy spokesperson Helen Lu Hairong also said there had been no talks between the Chinese and Namibian governments about China building a military base in the Land of the Brave. This follows a heated debate in the National Assembly last week which saw both the Landless People's Movement (LPM) and Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) raising the spectre of a huge alleged Chinese military presence in Namibia, with the LPM claiming 3 500 troops from the Asian giant where currently in the country. Defence minister Peter Vilho, while responding to the LPM's Henny Seibeb in parliament last week, did little to allay Namibian fears.

“If there was anything that needs to be brought to parliament in relation to defence it would have been brought here already. If the issues you are referring to were not brought to parliament, it means that they were not worth bringing to parliament. The rest of the information that you asked is confidential,” Vilho said.

Seibeb again yesterday claimed the Chinese military is building a base in Namibia to counter United States' dominance in Botswana.

He also said they had been informed of more than 3 500 Chinese military personnel in Namibia as well as imported artillery.

He said the troops are stationed at Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Henties Bay. However, Hairong denied that there were any Chinese personnel stationed in the Namibia currently or that there had been any talk of China setting up a military base.



'Arrogance'

According to Seibeb, China wants to set up a facility in Namibia similar to the US military base in Botswana.

“The refusal of him (Vilho) to answer justifies that there is a sinister plan to create a base for China to counter US interests in Botswana,” he said.

Political commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah said yesterday that Vilho is required to answer questions raised by parliamentarians.

“It is his parliamentary obligation that he has to clear issues when they arise in his ministry. Refusing to answer on an issue of national importance is not only arrogance, but also demonstrates that the minister lacks awareness of what his duties are as a minister in parliament,” Kamwanyah said.

“There is a difference between blatantly refusing to answer and answering in a manner that would not jeopardise the security of the country. This minister seems to be headed towards a wrong path.”

Kamwanyah feels that Vilho's refusal to respond to the allegations was creating more questions than answers. “Refusing to clear the presence of Chinese military, he is actually creating or sustaining the rumour, or otherwise why is he refusing to answer? It is a straightforward question to either acknowledge or refute the allegation.”



Creating 'speculation'

Institute for Public Policy and Research director Graham Hopwood said Vilho's refusal to answer created speculation.

“By not answering, the minister probably wants to give the impression that defence and security issues are off limits for questions in parliament. Unfortunately, his refusal to comment tends to stir up even more speculation and rumour, which may well be false. The ministry needs a clear communication approach on such matters.”



Conspiracy theories

The PDM's Vipuakuje Muharukua also said the defence ministry's secrecy “has caused a lot of conspiracy theories”.

These secrets breed wild hypotheses, he said. The minister is accountable to parliament. Parliament is entitled to know [about] the security of our nation,” he said.



Intimidation tactic

“At present, this can only be viewed as electorate intimidation, given the closeness to the election. Maybe they are preparing an onslaught if they lose elections, or are they going to use them to vote?” Muharukua said.

Meanwhile, defence ministry spokesperson Petrus Shilumbu said the allegations had been responded to already.

In August, the ministry denied the presence of Chinese military personnel in the country.

“There are no Chinese national