Enigmatic Dalai Lama rocks China/ Botswana relations

With its non-encoded foreign policy Botswana wants the latitudes to have its cake and eat it. It can shout from the roof top on a foreign issue and go mute on same issue in different circumstances, with different relations. The Botswana Gazette looks at the protagonists in China and Dalai Lama, in order to locate Botswana’s interest, an exercise seemingly futile.

His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama’s infusion of religion and politics continues to raise controversy internationally, not least because of the economic power that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) exerts over the economies of the World. The United States and India have in the past rejected the PRC’s call to deny the Dalai Lama entry into their countries, they are economic powerhouses in their own right. South Africa has prohibited him from entry on 3 occasions under the threat of economic push back from the PRC.
Botswana has however thrust itself into the international political quagmire of Tibet’s quest for independence by allowing the Dalai Lama entry into the country against the predictable warnings from the PRC.
The Dalai Lama will from the 17th to the 19th August be attending a conference in Gaborone, themed “Botho/Ubuntu: A Dialogue on Spirituality, Science and Humanity with the Dalai Lama”. The conference which will be attended by African humanitarian and spiritual leaders, scholars and healers together with the Dalai Lama and international neuroscientists to discuss an African worldview of Botho/Ubuntu is non-political in nature.
While Government has distanced itself from the Conference, it has issued various press releases on its support for the visit by the Dalai Lama. In a statement released on the Government Facebook page dated 14th July, Government condemns the PRC for human rights abuses, claiming that the PRC had invited local academia, media and politicians on a cultural exchange to China, that included a visit to Tibet intended as “part of an orchestrated campaign to promote local sentiment against the upcoming private visit of the Dalai Lama to Botswana.”
The Government press statement advised that the tour “also coincided with this week’s announcement of the passing of the 2010 Chinese Noble Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who was recognised around the world as pro-democracy (sic) and human rights activist. Xiaobo died in a China prison as a result of his writings calling for political reform in his own country”.
Liu Xiaobo, who had not sought radical change or an overthrow of government in China, was serving an 11 year sentence, convicted for “subversion of state power”, the Chinese equivalent to the charges of “sedition” currently faced by Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone. The subversion of state power allegations against Liu Xiaobo arose from his co-authorship of “Charter 08,” a manifesto calling for reform and greater freedom of expression within the Chinese system. In 2005, Professor Kenneth Good was deported from Botswana apparently for his writings, notably the academic book titled “Diamonds, Dispossession and Democracy in Botswana” in which he was critical of the manipulation of state power.
The Government press statement concludes, in a notable condemnation of the PRC that China is against the fundamental principles of free people everywhere and that the PRC is seeking to manipulate public opinion in Botswana which will not be allowed, “In as much as we in Botswana enjoy the freedom to criticise one another, let us not allow ourselves to be manipulated into betraying the fundamental principles that are the foundation of free peoples everywhere.”
What the Government press statement does not explain is why the Dalai Lama remains a controversial figure, in spite of his worldwide recognition as a man of peace. China views the Dalai Lama as a supporter of terrorist activities and of a separatist movement, known as the Tibetan Liberation Movement that seeks to create an independent state of Tibet.
The Tibetan Liberation Movement seeks to expand the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) to cover the entire Tibetan Plateau and declare its independence from China. The area claimed by the TAR makes up just over a quarter of China’s total land surface, comprising the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), Qinghai province, and parts of Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. It is one of the most sparsely inhabited regions of the world, and yet it is critically important as all of China’s major rivers, as well as those in east and south Asia, rise on the plateau.
Prior to the China/ Nixon entente of 1974 which gave rise to the “One China” policy, the Dalai Lama gave his support to the Tibet liberation movement. In 1988 he officially changed his position to a more reconciliatory advocacy for greater Tibetan autonomy within the PRC.
The PRC has accused the Dalai Lama of being a conduit for the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) funding of the dissident group that, according to the PRC’s official position seeks to break up China and threatens its national security.
Declassified CIA documents, in 1998 and later in 2009 revealed that the Dalai Lama from the 1950’s to the early 1970’s had received money from the CIA in its efforts to destabilise the PRC during the Cold War era. Though the Dalai Lama has since the 80’s distanced himself from the organisation and called for a peaceful resolution to the Tibet problem, the PRC views his past conduct as being criminal.
On the political front the PRC accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking to reintroduce a system of Serfdom which existed in Tibet prior to China’s Cultural Revolution during the 1950’s. The PRC claims that the Cultural Revolution liberated the area which was traditionally part of China from the rule of the Lamas, the British and American influence.
Historians have criticised this claim by the PRC and have shown that Tibet was an independent nation state for over 800 years.
Both China and the Dalai Lama remain deeply controversial. The PRC has been challenged repeatedly internationally for its human rights abuses and lack of freedom of expression, as similarly highlighted by Botswana Governments’ press releases. As an economic and military world leader external intervention has risen to seldom more than mere rhetoric and no international action has been taken to curb such abuses. President Trump, during his election campaign was vociferous in his criticism of China, as President however, the language from the White House on China has softened. China owns the largest portion of American debt outside of the US enabling it to cause, should it elect to do so, a collapse of the US dollar and economy.
The Dalai Lama too, remains a controversial figure. He has described Marxism as being “founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability,” and yet he has said that “America is [the] leading nation of free world. American principles, democracy, liberty: right now these things [are] very important.”
There can be no dispute that the Dalai Lama has a place as a figurehead, but that role must be more as a religious than a political authority. Botswana has in the past denied entry to religious leaders, notably Sheppard Bushiri as well as political personalities such as Julius Molema.
Traditionally Botswana’s foreign policy of quiet diplomacy has seen the Caprivi separatist movement being denied refugee status by government until granted by the Court.  Botswana generally views separatist movements as a threat to national security; except in the instance of China.