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The Dalai Lama must come: Part I

For the past few months, there has been contradicting views from many Batswana with regard to the impending visit by his holiness the Dalai Lama to Botswana.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama will visit Botswana in two weeks’ time to participate as an honorary guest at a public conference hosted by the Mind & Life Institute. The government of Botswana has opened its doors to the Dalai Lama’s participation at this conference, taking place at Botho College in Gaborone under the topic:  “Botho/Ubuntu: A Dialogue on Spirituality, Science and Humanity with the Dalai Lama”.

The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the traditional, religious and temporal head of Tibetan Buddhists and was made head of state at the of age 15 in 1950, the same year that Chinese troops occupied Tibet. The Dalai Lama held negotiations with Chinese officials on Tibetan self-rule with little success. In 1959, he fled Tibet for exile in India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

Over the years, the Dalai Lama has continued to lobby for semi-autonomy in Tibet. Tibetans around the world revere him as their spiritual leader and cultural icon. He has travelled the globe, attending meditation conferences, giving speeches in universities and Parliaments, and meeting people from all walks of life. He received the Nobel peace prize in 1989.

 In China, he is a despised troublemaker.  According to the CNN, the Chinese officials have vilified him as a “wolf in monk’s clothing” who seeks to destroy the country’s sovereignty by pushing for “independence”. The Dalai Lama maintains that he does not advocate independence, but wants an autonomy that would allow Tibetans to maintain their culture, language and religion under China’s rule. Despite this, China remains unconvinced.  

Wenran Jian, a political scientist says the Dalai Lama states that he is not seeking Tibetan independence, but Beijing sees this as a mere cover, because he has never openly given up the demand for so-called ‘Greater Tibet’ autonomy, so Beijing sees his meetings with world leaders as “pushing for political goals”.

 It must be stated categorically that even though the Dalai Lama heads a Tibetan government-in-exile not recognised by any country, his receptions and meetings with world leaders prompt China’s stern condemnation. The reason for this according to Professor Shambaugh is that China is hypersensitive about unrest and separatism in its border regions and that ever since the Dalai Lama’s abortive 1959 uprising, he has been seen by Beijing as a subversive and ‘splittist.’

The Chinese feel that meeting foreign heads of state, including our own President Ian Khama gives the Dalai Lama political credibility he does not deserve.

It is very clear that to China, Tibet is a sensitive “core issue.” The Chinese find it unacceptable when they see the Dalai Lama treated as a VIP, or even akin to a head of state, because they view it as a challenge to China’s national sovereignty and claim over Tibet.

 Gao Yi, an anti-Dalai Lama History professor says that “Anything that could damage national

unity is dangerous, that’s why it’s intolerable. The advocacy and activities of the Dalai Lama and his followers are actually dangerous, especially because they use words like ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ to gain sympathy overseas”.

It is therefore against this background that so much debate has raged here about whether Botswana should allow the Dalai Lama to visit or not. China’s policy of using trade as a weapon to punish those countries that have hosted the Dalai Lama is viewed by many analysts that Botswana will suffer an irreparable damage due to a vast array of economic sanctions that China might impose on Botswana.

Mind you, China is one of the biggest trading “partners” with Botswana. Recently, a group of journalists and some academics were sponsored on a visit to China by the Chinese embassy. It is said that whilst in China, some senior Chinese officials gave them some thorough “lectures” on the political danger of the Dalai Lama and the damage that his visit might cause to Botswana-China relations. That is the reason why Botswana’s mainstream media has turned into public relations agents of the Chinese government peddling all the scaremongering and fearmongering that China will cut all the business and diplomatic ties with Botswana. The media has prophesied doom and gloom as they foresee the collapse of Botswana’s economy which is over-reliant on China for its diamonds exports and a host of Chinese exports to this country.

What is totally absent from these scribes and so called experts is how such actions by the Chinese might negatively affect the Chinese economy and strategic leverage it has in the SADC region.

They deliberately fail to acknowledge that Botswana is located in a region that is politically and economically stable as compared to other regions in the continent. With Botswana being the more stable within the region and hosting the SADC headquarters, this creates a vantage point  for Botswana as China seeks to use its relations with Botswana as a pivot to Southern Africa and a way to establish itself   as a hegemon in the region. Even though the Chinese will be angry over the Dalai Lama visit, they are not as irrationally naïve to close their embassy, abandon their Oriental Plazas ( which rakes in millions daily for their companies), stop all the construction contracts in Botswana and withdraw to Beijing.

The strategic planners in China know fully well  that a stable country like Botswana will never run short of suitors from rivals such as Japan and South Korea in case they cut ties with Botswana.

Some studies have shown that even when the Chinese “punish “those whom they deem “irresponsible to host the Dalai Lama, they have never carried out the punishment in such a way that it jeopardises China’s economic advantage in that particular region.

Global Politics



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