China livid about Botswana stance on Dalai Lama
By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone-Botswana and China are headed for a diplomatic showdown with Beijing warning Gaborone not to allow the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to enter the country.
This follows a decision by the Botswana government to climb down on an earlier statement in which it had categorically distanced itself from the Dalai Lama’s visit.
The government had earlier distanced itself from the Dalai Lama’s visit saying President Ian Khama would not be delivering a speech at the opening address at an historic event in the country and neither shall he be participating.
But in another statement shortly after the first one, the Office of the President said Khama would meet the Dalai Lama. It also stated that his attendance at the event would be determined by his schedule.
The Dalai Lama is expected to address a human rights conference in Gaborone scheduled for August 17-19.
China, a major investor in the Botswana economy, is livid about the impending visit saying it hoped Botswana could make the “correct” decision about the trip.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement China opposes any foreign official meeting the Dalai Lama in any form.
“We hope the relevant country can clearly recognise the essence of which the Dalai Lama is, earnestly respect China’s core concerns, and make the correct decision on this issue,” Geng said.
Newly appointed Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, Lin Songtian, also weighed in and warned a Botswana Friendship Delegation that visited China last week against what he called harming “such a true friend and reliable development partner in China by challenging the core interests of China and the dignity of the 1.3 billion Chinese people”.
Lin, who is also the secretary-general of the Chinese Follow-up Committee on Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, said instead of being a purely religious figure, the 14th Dalai Lama has been a head of a well-organised political group whose goal is to seek Tibetan independence.
He further accused the Dalai Lama of setting up a “government in exile” outside China and relies on financial support provided by anti-China forces in the West.
The ambassador alleged that the Dalai Lama group has carried out separatist activities and called for the creation of a “Greater Tibet”, which could cover nearly one quarter of China’s territory, but has never existed in history.
“It also demands a ‘high degree of autonomy’ in the so-called ‘Greater Tibet’, thus putting it beyond the jurisdiction of the central government. This is a thinly disguised attempt to achieve ‘Tibetan independence’,” he said.
Lin further accused the United States of America-based Mind and Life Institute, the organisation which is engaged in planning for the Dalai Lama’s visit, of being a creation of the Dalai group in conjunction with anti-China forces in the West.
“In recent years, this institute has been using religion and science as a cover to help the Dalai Lama set foot in Africa, so as to gain international sympathy and expand international space for him and poison the long standing friendship and cooperation between China and Africa,” he said. Lin said many African countries have seen through the charade of the 14th Dalai Lama and this institute.
“Recognising and respecting China’s core concern, none of them has agreed to his visit for the sake of their bilateral relations with China and traditional friendship between China and Africa,” he said.
The Chinese diplomat said 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 people. According to him, there is no room for China to compromise on these issues.
“Some years ago, a few Western countries permitted the Dalai Lama’s visits in a deliberate attempt to use him and Tibet-related issues to make trouble for China and hinder China’s peaceful development.”
The Chinese government has, Lin said, made stern representations and took the necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty and national dignity.
“Those European countries have suffered serious setbacks in their relations with China and incurred great damage to their own interests following visits by the Dalai Lama. In the end, they drew lessons and made serious commitments to China, both publicly and bilaterally,” he said.
Lin said Botswana “should not harm such a true friend and reliable development partner like China and challenge the core interests of China and dignity of the 1.3 billion Chinese people”.
The Dalai Lama, who fled from Tibet into exile in India in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule, has long been at loggerheads with China, which brands him a dangerous separatist. The Dalai Lama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, says he seeks greater rights, including religious freedom and genuine autonomy for Tibet.