The decision by Botswana Government to allow the Tibetan spiritual guru Dalai Lama to visit the country and address a congress has provoked reaction from Beijing which detests to have any of its partners welcoming the Tibet leader. The Dalai Lama, who engages himself only in religious and spiritual activities, is expected to come to Botswana on an invitation to participate in a conference this August with African leaders addressing Botho/Ubuntu, human rights and healing from trauma. Though Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations Gaeimelwe Goitsemang has informed the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that the Budhist’s visit to Botswana has nothing to do with government, China is said not be happy with the visit. Goitsemang said Botswana supports the long standing “One China” policy, and Botswana will not breach bilateral relations between the two. On the contrary it has been revealed that Botswana will take care of Dalai Lama’s security and this was confirmed by the organisers of the event. In an interview Communications Officer for Mind & Life Institute Donald J. Crotteau said security details are confidential and planned in coordination with the Botswana government. The Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation has denied that President Khama will grace the event but Crotteau confirmed that he will give opening remarks. “His Excellency President Khama is expected to deliver the opening remarks at the conference,” he said in sharp contradiction on the government statement. Though government denied that they have already given the Tibetan spiritual guru visa, Crotteau said that the Visa was given in 2016. Answering a question from Kgosi Maruje I of Masunga, the Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs Edwin Batshu on Wednesday confirmed that government has approved a VISA for Dalai Lama. Kgosi Maruje expressed a worry that the visit by the Tibetan spiritual leader has already shown that it has caused some diplomatic tension between Gaborone and Beijing.
As a warning shot, Chinese embassy has suspended all the scholarship and workshops that they used to sponsor government officials to China. Inside sources at Chinese embassy have revealed that Beijing has instructed their office in Botswana to suspend sponsored seminars. Most of the trainings were supposed to start this month and none of those that were supposed to travel to China have been called. “This is just a warning to Botswana government that they must reconsider their position, regarding the visit by the Tibetan spiritual guru,” said a source at the Chinese embassy. That President Khama and former Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe will be sharing the stage with the Dalai Lama is said to be a strong symbol on Botswana’s endorsement of the Tibetan leader and the Chinese government is not buying the idea that he is not coming at the invitation of the government. The involvement of the Chief of Protocol for President Khama, Daphne Kadiwa in the organisation of the event is said to be also telling. Efforts to get a comment from the political officer at the Chinese Embassy, Tang Shenping were futile as he didn’t answer his mobile phone.
Botswana – China Relations
In 2015, more than 100 million Chinese travelled abroad, making China the world's top outbound tourist market. The visit by the Tibetan spiritual guru if allowed will affect the tourism industry as the Chinese were starting to warm up to African tourism. According to De Beers report, China has become the second largest consumer of Botswana’s diamonds, consuming 15% of the total diamond output. China’s demand for Botswana’s diamond is growing by more than 10% every year. When China heard about the planned visit by the Dalai Lama to Botswana it is said that could harm bilateral relations, with Gaborone “facing the consequences.” To Beijing, the Dalai Lama is not a spiritual leader, but a political foe. And given his support for Tibetan self-rule (Chinese officials angrily call him a “splittist”), his visit to Botswana is viewed as a deliberate provocation. In May this year, Chinese government slammed the US for sending a bipartisan delegation of American lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to India to visit exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. The only country that has stood against China over Dalai Lama is India which has ignored all the appeal by Beijing not to honour the Tibetan leader. Following the Dalai Lama’s visit to India’s northeast state of Arunachal Pradesh, China has vehemently criticised India for facilitating his visit to the area, saying the visit has severely damaged the two countries relations. While India has stated that his visit to the area is purely religious in nature and urged China not to create artificial controversy over the visit and also urged them not to interfere in India’s internal affairs.