Nam wants China action on poachers

>Lahja Nashuuta

WINDHOEK-CHINESE nationals involved in criminal activities in Namibia are straining diplomatic relations between the two countries, The Southern Times has learnt.

Namibia and the East Asian giant established diplomatic relations in early 1990 and China has invested over R60 billion into Namibia over the past 26 years. China also assisted Namibia in building essential infrastructure including hospitals, schools and roads.

But the Chinese community in Namibia, believed to have a population of over 100,000, has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons – inciting growing xenophobic sentiment from the hosts.

Chinese nationals’ involvement in illegal wildlife trade is blamed for fuelling rhino and elephant poaching in Namibia. Increasingly, Namibians including senior public officials are voicing their anger over these activities.

In March 2014, Wang Hui, 41, Li Xiaoliang, 32, Li Zhibing, 55 and Pu Xuexin, 51, were intercepted at Hosea Kutako International Airport attempting to smuggle 14 rhino horns worth R2.3 million and a leopard skin worth R50,000, out of the country.

The four were each sentenced to 14 years imprisonment by a Windhoek court. At the time, the case was the country’s record rhino horn smuggling incident.

Then, in November 2016, a 28-year-old Chinese man managed to sneak out of Namibia with 18 rhino horns hidden in his luggage at Hosea Kutako International Airport, before he was apprehended upon his arrival at the Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Chinese nationals, mostly businessmen across Namibia in towns as far as Katima Mulilo in the Zambezi region are blamed for the escalation of elephant and rhino poaching.

As a result, Chinese nationals have become targets of intense monitoring by Namibia’s law enforcement agencies. They are now subjected to thorough searches at police checkpoints, roadblocks, points of entry and random stops, which has irked many law abiding Chinese nationals.

Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta is unapologetic and frustrated by the criminal behaviour of some Chinese nationals.

Shifeta has called for stringent measures to deal with Chinese criminal elements convicted of poaching crimes. He wants then banned from entering Namibia for life.

“We’re frustrated. The Chinese embassy must remind its nationals to abide by the laws of the country. We won’t tolerate the poaching of our wildlife,” Shifeta said.

The minister says foreign nationals convicted of poaching will be deported after serving their sentence or paying a fine and they will be considered a ‘persona non-grata’ in Namibia.

Lieutenant General Sebastian Ndeitunga, the Inspector General of the Namibian Police Force, has also vented his frustration saying Namibia cannot be diplomatic to criminals.

The police spends millions of dollars in anti-poaching operations across the country including the Etosha National Park, said to be the epicentre of this wildlife crime.

“Our strong stance or harshness is not targeted at every Chinese national. We know that there are many law abiding Chinese nationals who are in the country but we also have to address their fellow kinsman who come to Namibia and poach our animals,” he said.

“If they are not happy, we are also not happy; we can’t be diplomatic or talk politics with criminals while they are finishing our animals. We are not directing our statements to law abiding citizens but criminals.”

Chris Brown, the chief executive officer of the Namibian Chamber of Environment and other environmental organisations wrote a strongly worded letter to former Chinese Ambassador Xin Shunkang late last year, urging the diplomat to address the problem.

“The illegal commercial interests of some Chinese nationals towards Namibia’s protected wildlife has exploited the vulnerability of poor Namibians and divided societies,” Brown said.

“It undermines local ownership of natural resources and the empowerment of communities to managing their wildlife wisely, for long-term communal benefits.

“It undermines Namibia’s globally acclaimed Community-based Conservancy programme, and it does considerable damage to Namibia’s international conservation and sustainable development reputation.”

Although the Chinese Embassy is on record stating that it will not allow a few of its nationals who have been arrested in connection with poaching to tarnish the country’s image, for some the statements constitute lip service as the embassy is not seen to be taking tangible action to address the crisis.

The embassy was also severely criticised on social media after the Chinese business community in Namibia pledged R30,000 to the fight against rhino poaching.

Brown has urged the Chinese Embassy to take responsibility for its citizens’ wildlife crimes in Africa as well as to come up with concrete policy to put an immediate stop to illegal wildlife trade.

During his meeting with representatives of the Namibian Chamber of Environment on January 4, 2017, the new Chinese Ambassador Qiu Xuejun said China persists in cracking down on illegal trade of endangered species and their products.

Ambassador Qiu pointed out during the meeting that his government firmly supports Namibia in protecting its unique environment and wildlife resources, and fighting against poaching and illegal trafficking across its borders.

“It should be noted that offenders are just a few in number, and the isolated cases should by no means be exaggerated to jeopardise the deep friendship and close cooperation of our two countries and two peoples,” he said.

China’s State Council published a notice on December 30, 2016, revealing that China will phase out all ivory processing and trade in all designated workshops and marketplaces by the end of 2017, with the first step to end such business in some designated places by March 31.

The decision came after the country imposed a three-year ban on ivory imports in March 2016 in an escalated fight against illegal trading of wildlife and flora. Besides the legislation, China is also making unremitting efforts to protect wildlife by enhancing institution building, trade management, law enforcement, capacity building and public involvement.

Ambassador Qiu pointed out that the Chinese government firmly supports the Namibian government in protecting its unique environment and wildlife resources, and fighting against poaching and illegal trafficking across its borders.

He said the Chinese Embassy in Namibia strongly condemns those crimes and supports law enforcement activities carried out to curb illegal wildlife trade.

The Namibian Professional Hunting Association (Napha) hailed the decision by China to ban ivory trade and processing by December 31, 2017.

Napha’s vice president Royston Wright told the Namibia Press Agency that they hoped the decision would be extended to other endangered wildlife species, such as pangolins and rhinos.

“We greatly welcome the decision by the Chinese authorities, and we support the endeavour. But we hope it will be vigorously monitored and policed when it is put into place,” he said.

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