The Dalai Lama will not be visiting Botswana later this week after all, canceling his trip due to “exhaustion” in a move that saves the small African country from hurting China’s feelings and damaging relations with Beijing for years.
The office of the 82-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader issued a statement on Friday explaining that the Dalai Lama had written to the president of Botswana expressing his “profound regret” at not being able to visit the country to speak at a conference in the capital of Gaborone which starts on Thursday because of “exhaustion” resulting from his old age.
“His Holiness has reluctantly had to concede that his 82-year-old body was telling him to rest,” the statement said. “Since his physicians have also advised him to avoid undertaking long journeys for the next few weeks, His Holiness will return to Dharamsala to recuperate.”
In the weeks leading up to the conference, Beijing warned Botswana multiple times not to invite the Dalai Lama into the country, demanding that Botswana “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 certainly not tolerate another country doing anything that harms China’s core interests,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a press conference last month.
In the past, China has exacted revenge on those countries who have welcomed the exiled spiritual leader 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.
Botswana seemed ready to stand firm against Chinese opposition with one of the country’s prominent politicians declaring that: “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.”
But it was apparently (and conveniently) not to be. It’s not clear if the Dalai Lama plans to schedule a new visit to Botswana.