The People’s Republic of China has issued a stern warning to Botswana for allowing His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama entry into the country. Ambassador Lin Songtain, the Director General of the African Affairs Department Ministry of Foreign Affairs cautioned that if Botswana allows the Dalai Lama into its jurisdiction, the landlocked country would have crossed the line with a “high price to pay.”
Speaking to the media this week in Beijing, Songtain said allowing the Dalai Lama entry will destroy the foundation of Chinese/ Botswana relations, “We will not compromise, without this foundation there is no relation between us,” he said.
China is the largest consumer of diamonds in Asia, spending billions in importing US luxury diamonds. Botswana indirectly through De Beers sells more diamonds in China than to any other country. China’s continued high demand for diamonds and other mineral resources maintains a favorable price in the world market, essential for the economically diamond and mining sector dependent Botswana.
China’s threat to cut relations with Botswana if it allows the Dalai Lama entry might hit Botswana were it matters most, diamonds. The total direct trade volume between the two countries has jumped from less than US$ million in early 1980s to US$343 million in 2013, an almost 700 times increase. During the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Botswana and China in Gaborone in 2014, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi said trade between China and Botswana was growing at an impressive pace.
In its defence, Botswana government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International relations extricated its self from the visit, qualifying it as a private visit.
Songtain says if Botswana is desirous of maintaining a longstanding relation with China, they should recognize the one China policy which dictates that Tibet falls within China. China views the Dalai Lama as the mastermind of a well-organized political group whose goal is to seek “Tibetan independence.” China says it has engaged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and notified them of their objections to the visit. The Chinese government say they have communicated with the University of Botswana, who advised them that they had no idea Dalai Lama was visiting.
Political observers say the Dalai Lama’s visit will compound existing problems between China and Botswana. The Chinese government has complained on issues such as the Botswana Government’s stance over the South China Sea, the deportation of its citizens from Botswana without prior warning and denial of visa to its business citizens with business interest in Botswana.
A study carried out Kedibonye Sekakela (Department of International Trade and Finance, Botswana Institute for Development and Policy Analysis, Gaborone, Botswana) says Botswana mainly exports primary products to China and imports intermediate and capital goods, which are used as inputs in the development of infrastructure in the country. The study further notes that increased imports from China into Botswana’s domestic market has mainly replaced imports from other countries, and China’s textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) exports gained market share from Botswana’s TCF exports in the third markets, i.e. South Africa. Unlike Lesotho, the study says the loss of market share by Botswana’s TCF exports in the South African market increased over the period under study. It advised that Botswana Government needs to consider ways of enhancing Botswana’s TCF export competitiveness and learn lessons from China in relation to enhancing productivity in the TCF and other exporting industries.
Dalai Lama has been denied a visa to South Africa three (3) times. In 2014 he was denied visa when he was invited to attend the 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. The summit was being arranged by a local organizing committee formed by the foundations representing the four South African laureates, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, FW de Klerk and Albert Luthuli. Observers said South Africa did not want to sour its relations with China.
China has not only warned economically small countries not to accept the Dalai Lama. It has also warned the United States of America who nevertheless granted the Dalai Lama entry.
The Dalai Lama is said to address a Conference in Gaborone themed, “Botho/Ubuntu: A Dialogue on Spirituality, Science and Humanity with the Dalai Lama,” between the 17th and 19 August. The conference will be attended by African humanitarian and spiritual leaders, scholars and healers together with the Dalai Lama and international neuroscientists to discuss an African worldview of Botho/Ubuntu.
The Botswana Government recently denied entry to another spiritual leader, Prophet Bushiri. Bushiri was scheduled to hold a privately organised mass congregation and prayer session.