Two weeks before his arrival the 14th Dalai Lama has divided the nation, with Parliamentary debates descending into a quarrel as China escalates threat for Botswana Government to "make the correct political decision". Academics, Politicians and ordinary citizens are engaged in heated debates over the Dalai Lama visit with some supporting the position of Botswana Government while others fear economic sanctions from the second largest economy in the world. Not even a $1 million gift for Dineo cyclone floods relief made by the Chinese on Monday could soften Botswana Government when a day later the Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi told Parliament that the country will not be bullied by those claiming to be friends. Showing the Asian Tiger, the middle finger, Venson-Moitoi said although Botswana agrees with the One China policy this does not mean her country will not allow citizens of Tibet and Taiwan to visit here. In fact, Government will provide accommodation and security for the Dalai Lama, a revelation that has irked the Chinese. But Venson-Moitoi could not be bothered. Likening China's conduct to that of apartheid regime in South Africa, she cautioned that despite providing aid to Botswana, China cannot dictate who should or should not visit here. "We therefore expect the Peoples’ Republic of China to respect our sovereign decision on this matter, as we never dictate to other countries who they should admit in their territories. Our considered view that the Dalai Lama’s visit to Botswana should not diminish the existing strong bonds of friendship and fruitful cooperation that has stood the test of time between our two republics," a defiant Venson-Moitoi said.
In vernacular she added: "Fa re le lefatshe jaana, re tsile go tsaya ditshwetso tse di tlaa kgopisang bangwe. Re ya go raya Batswana re reng, re rekisitse lefatshe la Batswana ka dikobo tse maChina ba re di fang? MaChina ba tlaa tshwanelwa ke gore ba re tlhamaletse gore ga ba ka ke ba re raya ba re, bulelang yo, tswalelang yo.” Although she said he will be in Botswana on a private visit, Venson-Moitoi confirmed that Government will be providing security and accommodation for the Dalai Lama.US-based organisation Mind & Life will host a dialogue with the Dalai Lama on spirituality, science and humanity on August 17-19 in Gaborone. China has repeatedly claimed that the Dalai Lama is sponsored by the US Government through the CIA to destabilise China, a position denied by Venson-Moitoi. She, however, confirms that the Dalai Lama regularly visits the United States and has held meetings with President Bush, Obama and more recently Trump. She also told Parliament that during his visits to the United States, Dalai Lama has interacted with State Governors, universities, members of congress, religious bodies and celebrities in the United States. At the signing of the handover and acceptance certificate of China’s $1 million cash grant to Botswana for flood relief, Chinese Ambassador Dr. Zhao Yanbo said the gesture is a demonstration of friendship between the two countries and a recognition that “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Dr Zhao emphasised the importance of friendly cooperation between China and Botswana. In response, Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Kenneth Matambo, concurred that the donation will further cement the long standing relationship. “It is worth noting that whether China was poor or rich, whether Botswana was poor or rich, China never stopped assistance to our Botswana friends,” said Dr Zhao.
In a response to an enquiry by The Patriot on Sunday on whether China will impose sanctions now that Botswana has confirmed the 14th Dalai Lama visit in August, the Chinese Embassy gave a typed recording of a press briefing on July 26, 2017 by China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang. Kang said; "I must stress that Xizang-related issues concern China's sovereignty and territory integrity. We demand that the relevant country shall earnestly respect China's core interests and make the correct political decision on this matter. China will not interfere in other countries' internal affairs, but will not accept another country doing anything that harms China's core interests". Although China denies trying to force Botswana not to issue a Visa for the Dalai Lama, scores of supporters of Botswana's decision accuse them of spreading imperialism due to their economic superiority by offering soft loans to developing countries and later arm-twisting them. Besides the P10 million gift, two primary schools are currently under construction with Chinese grant assistance while a team of experts from China will conduct the feasibility study of selected North-South Water Carrier projects, as another form of assistance. On the other hand, those calling for Botswana to exercise restraint on such a matter that is clearly sensitive to China point to trade relations and economic benefits Botswana and Batswana derive from the relationship.
Trade between China and Botswana started in early 1980s with the trade volume merely standing at 300,000 to 500,000 US dollars. In 1986, the two countries signed Trade Agreement to facilitate bilateral trade operations. From then on, the trade volume has grown rapidly. In 2013, the bilateral trade volume reached US$343 million, making China one of the largest trading partners for Botswana and the second largest consumer of Botswana’s diamonds. From January to August 2014, bilateral trade volume reached US$213 million US dollars while Botswana enjoyed a trade surplus of US$107 million towards China.
Chinese's assistance to Botswana
The Chinese Government has been providing economic assistance to Botswana including grants, interest-free loans and concessional loans, out of which 31 projects have now been completed. One of the highlights is the Gaborone Multi-Purpose Youth Centre which is now the headquarters of Botswana National Youth Council and was used as the main venue for the 2nd African Youth Olympic Games held in May 2014. China has helped in the renovation and upgrading of 587-kilometer-long railway, construction of 200-kilometer-long Letlhakeng-Kang road, built 717 residential houses and two primary schools. China has promised to donate and build two more schools in the coming years.
Technical exchange and transfer
China trained a group of Botswana agriculture technical personnel from 1970s to 1980s, and sent experts to Botswana to conduct local land survey and planning projects. In 2009, three Chinese senior agricultural experts came to assist Botswana in agricultural policy making and improving farming technology such as the use of plastic mulch in crop production. In health and medical area, China has been sending medical teams to Botswana since 1981. To date, China has altogether sent 373 medical experts to Botswana and treated more than 2.5 million Botswana patients. Presently, 46 professionals of the 13th medical team are working at Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone and Nyangabgwe Referral Hospital in Francistown. In 2011, the Chinese Government conducted ‘Brightness Action’ in Botswana, sending three oculists to do free surgeries for 200 cataract patients to help them regain vision. The second ‘Brightness Action’ is now under preparation and will be conducted soon.
Chinese companies in Botswana
In recent years, Chinese companies have been actively involved in the economic and social development of Botswana. There are more than 100 Chinese companies in Botswana now, mainly in infrastructure, trade and service industry. They have won a good reputation for their efficiency, strict execution and created more than 20,000 job opportunities for locals. Most construction projects were finished with good quality and on time, for example: Zhengtai Group, a reputable Chinese construction company has completed numerous projects including Academic Hospital at University of Botswana, Sebele Shopping Centre, Lobatse Sports Complex and so on. The Chinese companies have made great contributions to Botswana’s development especially in infrastructure since 1990’s.
Human Resources Development Cooperation
Chinese Government Scholarship Programme
Each year, China provides about 80 government scholarships to Botswana students for them to pursue higher education in China. Under the scholarship program, the Chinese Government covers almost all the costs of Botswana students which include the tuition fee, living allowance, medical service, transport subsidies, etc. In total, there have been more than 400 Botswana beneficiaries, each of whom can study in China between 1 to 6 years according to their specific degrees and majors.
Short-term Training Programmes
Since 1999, over 600 Botswana officials and technicians have been invited to attend seminars, workshops and short-term training programs in China, which cover areas of administrative management, commerce, information, media and sports, among others. In 2014, China organized a special seminar on China-aid projects for 18 senior Botswana government officials.
Volunteers from China
In 2009, 12 youth volunteers from China came to do volunteer work in Botswana. Under the coordination of Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture of Botswana, the Chinese volunteers were assigned to work in parliament, schools, local governments and civil organizations around the country.
Confucius Institute and Chinese Studies Programme at UB
In 2009, University of Botswana and China Shanghai Normal University jointly established Confucius Institute at UB (CIUB), which so far has attracted more than 4700 ordinary Botswana people to learn Chinese language and culture. CIUB has also opened the Chinese language and culture classes in Maru-a-Pula, Rainbow and Westwood international schools in Gaborone. The activities organized by CIUB such as ‘Culture Tour to Schools’, ‘Chinese Culture Week’ at Botswana Consumer Fair further promoted mutual understanding between our two peoples. In 2011, the then State Councilor and now Vice Premier of China, Madam Liu Yandong visited CIUB. She made a promise to invite 100 Botswana students to visit China and donate a Language Lab to CIUB. So far, the 100 students have visited Shanghai and Beijing in China as promised, and the high-tech language lab is now in use at CIUB. In 2010, Chinese Studies Program under Bachelor degree was established in Faculty of Humanities at UB. The junior students of the programme will spend a year at Shanghai Normal University, where they immerse themselves in the study of Chinese language and culture. The program has so far recruited more than 60 students and the first class of senior students will graduate this year.
China and Botswana signed the Agreement on Cultural Cooperation in 1991. Since then, cultural delegations, performing art troupes and exhibition groups have visited each other and conducted splendid performances frequently. World Expo 2010 held in Shanghai China served as a platform to further promote our cultural exchange and cooperation. Botswana pavilion, themed as ‘A Heritage of Peace’, has showcased the modernization of Botswana - one of the world’s development success stories, as well as its culture and tourism which is appealing the whole world. In 2011 and 2014, the famous Botswana dancing group, Diwetse from Selebi-Phikwe, and Mafitlhakgosi from Old Naledi visited China respectively and gave marvellous performance of traditional dancing to Chinese audience. In 2013, 4 Botswana artists were sent to China to learn embroidery. China sponsored local Botswana artists to study fine arts in China under Chinese Government Scholarship Program. In April 2014, China Nanjing Little Flower Art Troupe visited Botswana and put on a marvellous show at Westwood international school theatre. The two countries also have frequent exchanges in sports. In 2014, China sent a table-tennis coach to teach in Botswana for 3 months.
With social development and improved living standards, people-to-people exchanges between the two countries have got further boosted in recent years. In 2005, only 400 Botswana visitors went to China, while the number increased to about 3000 annually in recent years. Botswana has already been one of the tourism destinations for Chinese tourists. In 2008, following the Sichuan earthquake in China, the Botswana Government donated one million pula to the disaster stricken area. The Chinese people really appreciate the kindness and goodwill of Botswana people for their generous donation. Since the 1990s, over 10,000 Chinese people have travelled or started business in Botswana, bringing in not only capital and technology but also affordable Chinese commodities with relatively good quality, which has helped to enrich the local market supply. The Chinese people are also committed to their social responsibilities and help the needy people in Botswana. So far, the Charity Association of Chinese in Botswana has donated over 2 million pula to help local people to develop personal skills, build public utilities, purchase daily necessaries, etc. In 2013, ‘China-Africa People-to-people Friendship Action’ was launched in Botswana, under which 3 local NGOs have been financially assisted in launching and operating their charity programs with more than 1000 local beneficiaries.
IMPACT OF TRADE WITH CHINA
A working paper by Kedibonye Sekakela, an Associate Researcher at the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) on the impact of trading with China on Botswana’s economy and third markets, found that there is a need to consider ways of enhancing Botswana’s export competitiveness and there are also lessons to be learnt from China in relation to enhancing productivity in the Textile, Clothing and Footwear (TCF) and other exporting industries. Sekakela notes that the re-emergence of China as a major producer in the global economy can mainly be explained by its use of trade and industrial policies which complemented its ascension to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. Due to its rapid economic growth rate and increased integration with the global economy over the past decades, China has had a significant trade impact on both developed and developing countries. Trade between Botswana and China dates back to 1975, but began to intensify from 2006 onwards. In 2011, China was Botswana’s third largest import supplier after South Africa and the United Kingdom. It was also the 12th largest destination for Botswana’s exports. Sekakela observed that as Botswana exports primary products, it is not surprising that exports to China are also mainly raw materials and intermediate goods. These include non-industrial diamonds, copper and nickel ore concentrates and crude vegetable materials. "Unlike in the past, the main imports from China to Botswana are now intermediate and capital goods (machinery and equipment, iron and steel products), which are mainly used as inputs in the infrastructural development projects in Botswana. Many of these are being implemented by Chinese construction companies but imports would nevertheless continue irrespective of the presence of these companies simply by virtue of China’s relative competitiveness as a supplier of this range of products," the report reads.
The report further notes that the technological sophistication of products imported from China has evolved over time. In 2000, almost 70% of the total imports sourced from China by Botswana were labour-intensive and resource-intensive manufactures. This proportion shrank to less than 13% in 2011 and 25% in 2012. Although the share of labour-intensive and resource-intensive manufactures in total manufactured imports from China declined, its value has increased in absolute terms. Industries, which had a high share of imports from China include travel goods and handbags (40%), textile fibres, yarn, fabrics and clothing (26%), telecommunication and sound recording (25%) footwear (21%), machinery and equipment (12%). The extent of the impact of imports from China on Botswana’s productive sectors is reflected on the rising share of the imported goods from China in the domestic consumption, mainly after 2005. The increased imports from China are associated with reduced manufactured output growth in Botswana over the period under investigation. Being an aggressive competitor, imports from the rest of the world also lost market share to China in the Botswana market. Thus, South Africa, which has long been the main source of supply of Botswana’s imports, has lost part of its Botswana market share to China. Almost all Botswana’s TCF exports into South Africa lost market share to China.