Botswana risks China ties as defiant Khama visits Dalai Lama

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Mpho Tebele

Gaborone – The Government of Botswana and former President Ian Khama have clashed over his decision to visit the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, in India.

Khama was due in India on Friday, March 8, where he was expected to meet the Dalai Lama in a trip that is likely to anger China, which is a key investor and trading partner across the African continent.

Reports indicate that the government has since rejected Khama’s request to travel to India to officiate at the commemoration of the 60th National Uprising Day by the Central Tibetan Administration in India.

Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, informed Khama that: “Botswana subscribed to the One China Policy and essentially this means we regard Tibet as part of China.”

Replying to Khama’s request, Morupisi noted that “it would not augur well for the Government of Botswana to sponsor or support (financially, diplomatically or logistically) any personality, especially a high-profile individual such as the former President, to interact with the Tibetan Group, which is in exile in India.”

Khama, through his office, had written to the Office of the President informing it of the trip for financial and logistical support.

Despite the rejection of his request, Khama has since announced that he is going ahead with his scheduled trip.

In a statement following Morupisi’s rejection letter, Khama announced that the Central Tibetan Administration has invited him to give the keynote address at the 60th Anniversary of the Tibet Uprising in Dharamsala, India, on 10 March 2019. He also indicated that he would have an audience with “His Hilliness the Dalai Lama”.

The statement reads in part, “His Excellency the former President shall be among other dignitaries and human rights activists, he leaves for India on the 8thof March 2019.”

In 2017, the Dalai Lama, who was scheduled to officiate at an event in Botswana when former President Khama was still head of state, cancelled his trip to Botswana citing ill health. At the time, Khama, who was set to meet the spiritual leader, riled the Chinese when he informed them that “we are not your colony”.

The Botswana Guardian quoted Khama as saying the Chinese “told me things like the ambassador may be recalled; it would damage relations between Botswana and China; and that they would, as China, engage other African states to isolate Botswana.” 

Botswana has benefited from Chinese infrastructure development.

China only wants the world to accept that there is only one China and no independent states of Taiwan and Tibet.

Reports indicate that China and the Dalai Lama have been at loggerheads over the sovereignty of Tibet and the Asian giant views the Dalai Lama as a separatist.

Botswana’s neighbour, South Africa, which is the largest economy in the continent, has repeatedly denied the Dalai Lama a visa in an attempt to further boost ties with China.

This drew fierce criticism from human rights activists among them Archbishop Desmond Tutu. 

 

 

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