Botswana needs an urgent political dialogue with China
The government of Botswana and particularly the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation will need to reflect on Chairman Mao Zedong’s most famous quotation for their diplomatic survival. Mao says; “Diplomacy is saying the nastiest things in the nicest way.” The politics and culture of modern China evolved around this man who many Chinese people hold almost as deity.
It has become apparent that Botswana as a country is determined to brush China the wrong way at every turn in their relationship. The climax of this unfriendly relationship was evidenced two years ago at the time when Botswana issued a provocative statement regarding their position on the disputed islands in the South China Sea.
I do not write to absolve China from any guilt. But I am bewildered at the way my own country has adopted an awkward way of diplomacy. Regarding the South China Sea issue, Botswana at the time chose to make radical comments even without facts. This was a conflict that involved particularly China and the Philippines. Right now the Philippines has kissed and made up with China and they are seating at the table discussing a myriad of mega projects to be financed by the Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank. This bank is premiered to takeover from the World Bank and the international Monetary Fund.
AIIB is the same bank that the Government of Botswana has turned a blind eye on regardless of the low interests at which it is giving loans. It became very clear after the last FOCAC meeting in South Africa that Botswana chose to access money from more expensive international institutions. Botswana currently is reeling under the heaviest loan yoke since independence in 1966.
Regarding the South China Sea issue, the United States of America issued their statement days later. The statement was carefully crafted to fit in the mould of diplomacy. The US and China are the only two superpowers in the world. The US will not deliberately do anything that China will not diplomatically accept and the same goes for China.
Botswana must uphold her sovereignty at all cost. However, we need to apply diplomacy in the way we deal with China and the rest of the world. The latest development regarding the souring relationship between ourselves and China is the upcoming visit of the Dalai Lama. Botswana should have allowed the diplomatic wounds to heal. Whether for the right or wrong reasons, China is already upset with the idea of hosting the Dalai Lama.
Botswana’s views on the Tibetan Buddhist monk may not necessarily be wrong. But for the fact that China would certainly take an offence at the visit should have been the single reason for cancelling or postponing the visit indefinitely. There is no country in the world which is not economically dependent on China and at the top of that list is the US. For this reason, we need to tread carefully in our approach to China. Going forward Botswana will need to engage China on a one on one dialogue before making any outrageous public pronouncements.
When Donald Trump was campaigning for president in the US, he bashed China at every corner. The same Trump became a praise singer to President Xi Jin Ping of China during his recent trip to the White House calling him “a nice guy”. This change of heart should teach our own Ian Khama that his approach to China is somewhat suicidal.