The long-standing 42-year relationship between Botswana and China is on the brink of collapse as the former is now willing to extend “normal courtesies” reserved for visiting dignitaries during the Dalai Lama’s visit to Botswana. Beijing is talking tough and is in an uncompromising mood regarding Tibetan’s exiled spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s planned visit to Botswana, saying whoever allows the Tibetan spiritual leader to visit then that country is closing relations with China.
Addressing visiting journalists and academics from Botswana last week in Beijing, Songtian Lin, Director General of the Department of African Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said he was very worried about the deteriorating relations between Botswana and China. “I have a lot of worries,” he said in a high-pitched voice, saying the relations have gone down. “I fight day and night for countries that stand with us,” he said. Lin was referring to the 41 African countries that currently enjoy investment and financing cooperation with China. 384 cooperative projects valued at US$450 billion are currently being undertaken in Africa. The projects have paid US$450 million taxes to these African countries and created 87 000 job opportunities. This is what Botswana is expected to lose out if it allows the Dalai Lama to cross into its borders.
“I am fully confident that your president will not extend a hand to the Dalai Lama,” said Lin. He was wrong. This week Wednesday President Ian Khama’s administration released a statement that the Government of the Republic of Botswana will be extending the normal “courtesies” for visiting dignitaries, for which the Chief of Protocol is responsible. “Furthermore, His Excellency will meet the Dalai Lama when he is in Botswana,” reads part of the statement. Initially Gaborone had indicated that it has nothing to do with the Dalai Lama visit as his visit is private and no courtesies would be extended to him. Government spokesperson Jeff Ramsay on Wednesday refused to comment on the latest government’s stand.
“I would not like to comment on that at the moment,” he said. He however confirmed that the statement came from the Office of the President. Dalai Lama will visit Botswana in August to participate as honourary guest during a live public conference hosted by the Mind & Life Institute. The three-day conference takes place at the new Indoor Sports Centre on the campus of the University of Botswana in Gaborone, 17 – 19 August. According to a press release this is his only planned destination in Africa.South Africa on three occasions denied the Dalai Lama a visa for fear of angering China.
The Dalai Lama wants greater autonomy for Tibet, an objective China views as separatism and a violation of the country’s One China policy, which Botswana supports. “Tibet related issues concern China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and touch upon China’s core interests and the dignity of the 1.3 billion Chinese.
There is no room for China to compromise on these issues,” said Lin adding that no country in the world has opened its airports for the Dalai Lama.“We never force anyone in the continent to accept our policy but what will the Dalai Lama visit benefit your people? You have the right to choose, to close or to open (relations).” Lin warned that whatever China’s friends do should not “touch our bottom line.”
“You do anything against our interest is not acceptable, I am not rich but I am not stupid.”
Lin said if the Dalai Lama wants to come back to Tibet a temple is waiting for him. “If you want relations with China to last, then you have to recognise the One China policy, otherwise you are touching our bottom line,” said Lin.
Meanwhile, this week the Office of the President said President Khama’s attendance at the conference, for the Official opening or otherwise, will be determined by his schedule.