Wesbank

Botswana, China diplomatic row

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 23 February 2016   |   By Staff Writer

Business came to a standstill on Thursday and Friday when local employees at the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Botswana were released to go home as the embassy staff focused attention on addressing the issue of the Islands in South China Sea. Visa application processing was also suspended, but the embassy has declined to comment on the matter.

Botswana is headed for diplomatic fallout with China after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation made a statement on Wednesday, which contained insinuations that the world’s Number 2 super power could be meddling in the dispute over the Islands in South China Sea. Beyond calling upon all countries which laid a territorial claim on the Islands to resolve their disputes through International Bodies set up for that purpose, the Government of Botswana further said "No country, no matter how big its economy or military should impose its power over others to make claims, which may escalate tensions that could result in conflicts". Botswana further said the peaceful resolution of the current disputes will augur well for international peace and security.

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It is common course that China has from time immemorial laid territorial claim over the Islands in South China Sea. Further, it is undisputable that China-the second biggest economy in the world after USA, also possess massive military power.  This has sparked debate as to whether the statement from Botswana government was a disguised criticism of The People's Republic of China. The Chinese Embassy in Botswana responded on Thursday pouring water over any questions of uncertainty about the sovereignty of the islands as Botswana stated. The Chinese reiterate that China has ample historic and legal basis for its sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters.

Sources say the Chinese Embassy is unhappy with the statement and is of the view that Botswana's position on the matter is wrong; a distortion of the truth and interference in a sovereign matter in which Botswana has no interest. China feels that even the geographical location of the disputed islands does not connect Botswana in any way. The Chinese are allegedly suspicious that there is a third force, which has put pressure on Botswana to make the statement, which super powers like America have tactfully avoided. Such speculation has not been helped by the arrival of a US Congressional delegation in Botswana from February 17-19, 2016.

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But Botswana has stuck to her guns and defended the position on the dispute. A hastily convened meeting between the Ambassador for China, and Foreign Affairs Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi on Friday morning failed to bring a truce. Venson-Moitoi would not budge and the parties agreed to disagree, The Patriot on Sunday has learnt.

China’s position on South China Sea
A statement from the Chinese Embassy on Thursday said the South China Sea Islands are China's territory. "It was not until the 1970s when there were reports about oil under the South China Sea that some countries began to invade and occupy Nansha islands and reefs, undermining China's lawful rights and interests. According to international law, China has the right to defend its sovereignty, rights and interests, and China has the right to prevent the repeat of such illegal moves as encroaching upon China's lawful rights and interests.

China's position on South China Sea is clear and consistent over many decades. Our position has not changed and will not change.  China was the first to discover, name, develop and operate on the Nansha Islands. It is also the first country that exercised and has been exercising sovereign jurisdiction over the islands, which has been long recognized by the international community including the Philippines," read part of the statement. The statement further cautions that "as a sovereign state and a State Party to the UNCLOS, China is entitled to choose the means and procedures of dispute settlement of its own will.

China has all along been committed to resolving disputes with its neighbors over territory and maritime jurisdiction through negotiations and consultations. As a State Party to the UNCLOS, China firmly opposes the acts of abusing the compulsory procedures for dispute settlement under the UNCLOS, and calls upon all parties concerned to work together to safeguard the integrity and authority of the UNCLOS".

China, Botswana relations
Last year the Chinese Ambassador said investors from his country are reluctant to come to Botswana due to recent deportation of their countrymen, who were doing business in the country. A number of Chinese have been denied entry into the country after their work and residence permits were declined for security reasons.

President Ian Khama failed to honour an invitation for Heads of State to attend the Forum for China-Africa Summit in December 2015, instead sending his deputy Mokgweetsi Masisi. In fact, Khama has never attended the forum, which was on a third year.

At the summit, China pledged $60 billion in aid and soft loans to support African economies. Botswana has not applied for the soft loans or aid from China, despite the local economy struggling as diamonds and commodity prices tumble.

Botswana has in the past benefitted immensely from support extended by |China in different sectors of the economy. China issues over 100 fully paid scholarships to Batswana, provides specialised military training for a minimum 20 soldiers annually, and recently donated a multi-million pula anti-poaching equipment. China is one of the biggest consumers of Botswana diamonds.