Chinese Naval Base for Walvis

DESPITE the Chinese government and the Namibian defence ministry refuting ‘rumours’ of China’s plan to build a naval base at Walvis Bay, a confidential letter from Namibia’s ambassador to China, Ringo Abed, to Namibia’s foreign ministry clearly states that “a [Chinese] delegation will visit Namibia … for discussions … on the way forward regarding plans for the proposed naval base in Walvis Bay”.

According to a ‘confidential’ letter addressed to foreign affairs permanent secretary Selma Ashipala-Musavyi by Abed, dated 22 December 2014, senior spokesman for China’s defence ministry Geng Yansheng met Abed on 19 December to discuss “several issues of mutual interest and benefit”.

Yansheng rubbished reports carried in The Namibian last year of China’s plans to build an overseas base in Walvis Bay.

He told international media at the end of November: “We are aware of this report in circulation. The report is unfounded.”

According to him, The Namibian had quoted an unofficial article which had been posted on the internet in 2013, and had “exaggerated and distorted the original source”.

According to Abed, Yansheng noted that “China has invested heavily in Namibia as a gesture of friendship and strengthening of sisterly ties between the two countries”. He further noted that “Namibia has had problems with illegal fishing trawlers in its waters, saying that a Chinese naval presence will deter any would-be illegal trawlers and smugglers in Namibian waters”.

“Other considerations for the naval base would be for it to serve to train the Namibian navy, not only to be combat ready but to carry out civilian duties as well,” the letter reads.

Abed wrote that Yansheng said a training agreement could be put in place once the naval base agreement has been signed.

The Chinese defence ministry is apparently working on a draft agreement which will be submitted to the Namibian embassy to be forwarded to the Namibian government – which will serve as the basis for discussions when the two sides meet.

Abed went on to state that Yansheng also said a delegation would include technical staff and naval architects who would do a field exploratory feasibility study, and that the “modality for the rental would be left to the discretion of the government”.

“This embassy would appreciate directives regarding the way forward in line with the plans and requirements of our defence ministry,” said Abed.

The meeting is expected to take place only after Namibia swears in its new President on Independence Day, 21 March 2015.

Attempts to get a comment from Ashipala-Musavyi were unsuccessful last Thursday as she was in a long meeting.

Namibia’s Ministry of Defence spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Monica Sheya said she knew nothing of such a letter and referred enquires to the foreign affairs ministry.

Minister of Defence Nahas Angula told an English weekly that there had never been discussions with the Chinese regarding the construction of a Chinese naval base since he became the Minister of Defence, and that he was not aware of these plans.

The Director of the Political Division for the Chinese embassy in Windhoek, Tony Wong, said he had no idea of this letter and still maintained that the story was just “rumours” based on an old “academic discussion”.

“You will have to clarify with your ambassador,” he suggested.

Attempts to speak to Abed were futile because of a six hour time-gap between Namibia and China, amongst others. The embassy was closed when The Namibian phoned.

Last year November, The Namibian carried a story based on a report in the Chinese state newspaper, International Herald Leader, that was published in 2013, in which the Chinese navy was aised to build overseas naval bases.

Three “lifelines” were suggested: the North Indian Ocean, Western Indian Ocean and the Central-South Indian ocean.

“These three strategic lines will further enhance China’s effectiveness to take responsibility for maintaining the safety of international maritime strategic channels, and maintaining regional and world stability responsibilities and capabilities,” it was reported.

Furthermore, the article stated that the Chinese navy will not establish “US-style” military bases, yet will not exclude the establishment of a number of so-called ‘Overseas Strategic Support Bases’ in accordance with international prevailing rules.

Eighteen additional overseas bases were suggested, which included Walvis Bay (Namibia). The rest were listed as Chongjin Port (North Korea), Moresby Port (Papua New Guinea), Sihanoukville Port (Cambodia), Koh Lanta Port (Thailand) Sittwe Port (Myanmar), Dhaka Port (Bangladesh), Gwadar Port (Pakistan), Hambantota Port (Sri Lanka), Maldives, Seychelles, Djibouti Port (Djibouti), Lagos Port (Nigeria), Mombasa Port (Kenya), Dar es Salaam Port (Tanzania) and Luanda Port (Angola).

Source : The Namibian