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Poking the dragon

MMEGI EDITOR
The front page of Tuesdayĺs Daily News featured our ambassador to India, Lesego Motsumi smiling broadly and warmly shaking the hand of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The caption promised that the Dalai Lama would be in Botswana soon, having pulled out of his planned August bid on medical advice.

As innocuous as it appears, it is evident that the picture, its positioning in the paper and the caption are intended as yet another dig at the Chinese, with whom Botswana has had a diplomatic tiff of sorts in the past three months over the Dalai Lama’s planned visit. It should be remembered that initially government prevaricated on whether the Dalai Lama would be granted a visa, preferring to point to the organisers of the conference as responsible for answers. As the tiff intensified, it appears a rift formed between the BGCIS and the Office of the President, when it became clear the latter preferred a harder public line in the matter, going so far as to state that visiting dignitary protocols would be extended to the spiritual leader.

That President Ian Khama himself was behind the harder stance became evident in an interview he granted the Botswana Guardian in which he said Botswana was not a Chinese colony and would not be dictated to. Khama and indeed Botswana, have generally received praise across the continent and beyond for its courage in standing up to Beijing, a country known for masking its own democratic deficiencies behind a ‘non-interference’ foreign affairs policy which essentially demands that other countries stand back and keep quiet.

The victor of the diplomatic spat was, evidently,

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Botswana, the plucky underdog facing off against the Chinese dragon and government no doubt luxuriated in the praise coming from other nations across the world that have been bullied into silence by China. The failure of the trip allowed both sides an opportunity to de-escalate the situation and more importantly, gave the wounded dragon the chance of retreating back to cordial relations with its dignity intact. And China did, holding a public sending off ceremony recently for scholarship beneficiaries amongst other friendly acts.

It is government that apparently is still dizzy with joy at the victory. Rather than treading softly on the matter, empowered by having successfully reminded Beijing of the boundaries in the friendship, Gaborone appears intent on stoking the embers of the dispute as seen by The Guardian interview, other statements by Khama and the Daily News picture.

There is a clear advantage to be gained from a softer approach, being the preservation of economic and trade ties, if only because our delicate economy needs all the alternative partners it can persuade.

The victory has been won, the Dalai Lama will come, Beijing knows that and a détente is settling. Rather than revelling in the victory, let us work to preserve the civility.

 

Today’s thought 

“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” 

– Theodore Roosevelt



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