Botswana and China are headed for another diplomatic row over the granting of VISA to Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who is also Noble Peace laureate. He is expected to be in the country for three days in August at the invitation of University of Botswana’s Mind and Dialogue in Botswana. Sources have revealed that the Chinese government is already putting pressure on Botswana government not to allow the visit, something that they succeeded in achieving in South Africa where the government turned down the spiritual leader’s VISA application in 2014. Another Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu who had invited Lama bitterly protested South Africa’s decision. Chinese officials are said to unhappy that Botswana’s decision is tantamount to an endorsement of what he is demanding from China – the independence of Tibet. China regularly deploys its economic and political muscle to pressure governments to limit contact with him. He wants increased autonomy for Tibet, from which he has been exiled since 1959. China accuses him of being a separatist.
Should Botswana allow the Tibetan leader into the country, China is said to have threatened to close their embassy as a sign of protest and suspend all trade with Botswana. China is Botswana’s third largest importer of goods after South Africa and the United Kingdom and they are the second largest consumers of Botswana diamonds. Though Botswana is still adamant that they will allow Dalai Lama into the country and give him full security, sources at Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation have revealed that the country is feeling the Chinese heat. “They might withdraw the visa in the last days as the pressure is mounting on the country from China,” said the source. On the hand, Botswana is worried about the bashing from the civic societies across the world should they try not allow the Tibetan leader to visit the country. The South African government refused to grant Dalai Lama VISA three times to visit the country to protect their relationship with Beijing. In 2014 South African government denied him VISA where he was scheduled to attend the 14th world summit of Nobel peace laureates in Cape Town. This led to the event to be cancelled after other dignitaries decided to boycott it. The country had earlier denied him entry in 2009 reasoning that it would detract attention from the 2010 World Cup.
The Chinese Embassy Director of Political Section in Botswana, Tang Shenping, said they will release a statement regarding the visit. Asked if they have engaged their Botswana counterpart, Shenping refused to comment on the issue. “No comment for now,” he said. Recently the relationship between Botswana and China has been on rocky grounds. Last year Chinese Embassy closed shop showing anger over a press statement issued by the Botswana government condemning China’s position on the South China Sea controversy. In the press statement which Chinese embassy only learnt of in the press, Botswana accused China of imposing “its power over others to make claims because of “its economy or military.”
Foreign minister Dr Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi was forced to make a statement in Parliament to assure the nation that there is no tension between Gaborone and Beijing. Another issue which China always complains about is the treatment of its citizens by Botswana Government. In 2015 Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China Li Nan didn’t mince his words when he when talking about the ill-treatment of their citizens by Gaborone. Nan said Chinese businessmen are reluctant to come to Botswana due to its stringent immigration laws. “Botswana government usually sends delegates to China to woo our investors to come here but they are afraid because in Botswana one can be deported any time without any reasons,” said Nan. He said trade between Botswana and China has also suffered a deficit due to Visa restrictions in Botswana. Chinese investors are very smart and won’t come to a country where one can be deported even when he has invested a lot in a country and not be given time to wind up his/her businesses, said Nan. Stopping short of saying Botswana government is petty, the Deputy Head of Mission, said that a Chinese businessman was deported for a crime he was fined for two years earlier. “He was arrested for illegal fishing and fined and now recently he was deported for that crime,” said the frustrated Chinese diplomat in July 2015.