Botswana is the latest country to step on China’s toes and hurt its feelings with plans to allow the Dalai Lama to visit in August as a “foreign dignitary.”
The Chinese government despises the exiled Nobel Peace Prize recipient and is generally infuriated with any nation, diplomat or celebrity that meets with him or acknowledges him as anything but a “radical separatist,” a “wolf in monk’s robes” or a “demon.” Meanwhile, the Tibetan spiritual leader says that he merely wants greater rights, freedom and autonomy for Tibet and appears to love nothing more than trolling Chinese leaders in the meantime.
China generally insists that all of its diplomatic and business partners accept the “one China” policy and dismiss the Tibetan independence movement. Consequently, earlier this month, China had attempted to dissuade the southern African nation which relies heavily on Chinese investment from hosting the Dalai Lama. But, thus far, Botswana has held its ground.
Though, at this point, we’re sorta just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Here’s why:
In the past, China hasn’t taken this sort of dissidence lightly, often firing back at countries which have welcomed His Holiness by imposing sanctions or by giving high-ranking officials the cold shoulder. Last year, China froze relations with Mongolia following a visit to Ulaanbaatar by the Dalai Lama, eventually forcing the Mongolian government to vow never to allow the Tibetan spiritual leader into their country again.
Then, there are also countries that don’t dare allow the Dalai Lama the cross their border in the first place, like South Africa which has refused the Tibetan monk’s request to visit three times since 2009.
This time around, Chinese dignitaries have been rather straightforward and ominous in their condemnation of Botswana’s decision. At the beginning of July, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters that “We hope the relevant country can clearly recognize the essence of which the Dalai Lama is, earnestly respect China’s core concerns, and make the correct decision on this issue.”
That stance has since escalated, when, earlier this week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lu Kang clarified China’s opinion on the matter.
“We demand the relevant country earnestly respect China’s core interests and make the correct political decision on this matter,” Lu said, “China will not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, but will certainly not tolerate another country doing anything that harms China’s core interests.”
In response to this aggressive statement, one Botswanian politician, Venson-Moitoi, adamantly stated that her country would not be bending to the will of any foreign power, reports the local Mmegi Online.
“Our view is that he [the Dalai Lama] is a man of peace and we have done our security checks through Interpol. He does not pose any threat,” she said. “Our immigration laws, as supported by our citizens, allow for anyone who does not pose a threat to come in. This country belongs to Batswana and we are not going to allow favors from other countries to dictate who comes here and who does not.”
This leaves us wondering just how much dissent China will tolerate. Beijing has usually been able to exert the most influence over countries with which they have close business ties, which is why it’s a bit curious that Botswana hasn’t yet caved. The two nations have had a symbiotic relationship in the past, with many Chinese companies investing heavily in the development of critical infrastructure in the African nation. In turn, China has taken advantage of Botswana’s rich supply of natural resources.
But apparently, recent interactions between Botswana and China have been strained. According to the Mmegi Online, this may be why Botswana is permitting the visit. President Khama has been losing confidence in Chinese business contracts and has publicly insinuated that China has crossed a line in its involvement in the South China Sea. Certainly, if Botswana follows through with its current agenda, this relationship isn’t going to be getting any better any time soon.
By Emma Abrams
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