Local political analyst Anthony Morima says the current silent diplomacy adopted by Botswana in People’s Republic of China’s spat with Philippines over South China Sea islands could lead to bad diplomatic relations in the future.
Morima told The Botswana Gazette in an interview after the Chinese Embassy called the media last week “to introduce the latest development of China-Botswana relations as well as China’s position on various regional and international issues” as it stated in a memo to the media. The press conference came after last week’s International Bureau of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) tribunal ruling which awarded the disputed South China Sea islands to China’s rival Philippines. China and Philippines together with Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam claim ownership of various parts of the South China Sea and its islands.
It also emerged from the press conference that Botswana was not one of the 37 African countries that support Chaina’s claim to the islands, but Chinese Ambassador to Botswana Zheng Zhuqiang told journalists that they hope the country would support and understand China’s position on the matter.
Morima said Botswana’s silence might give China wrong signals, considering the two countries’ past diplomatic tension and that Zhuqiang was being diplomatic when he did not address the issue of Botswana’s silent diplomacy directly.“China might be disappointed by Botswana’s silence, maybe it expected something positive from Botswana’s position on the South China Sea’s given the two countries past diplomatic tensions,” he said.
Morima however said it was the right of every sovereign state to be silent to preserve peace with other countries. The silence, he added is not unique as it is often excercised by many other countries to stay clear of disputes. If the tension between the two countries becomes “fully fledged,” he said Botswana had more to lose as China is an economical superpower.
At the media conference, the late arrival of the Chinese amabassador sent tongues wagging, but the embassy spokesperson said the delay was due to a meeting the amabassador had at the Office of the President. Weighing in on the matter, Morima who was at the same press conference said the embassy may have restricted media enquiries to the South China sea questiton at the request of Botswana’s presidency.
Before the PCA judgment, Botswana five months ago issued a statement which did not commit to any position in support of China. ““No country, no matter how big its economy or military should impose its power over others to make claims, which may escalate tensions that could result in conflicts,” the statement read in part.
Botswana however said the peaceful resolution of the dispute would help instill international peace and security. China however rebutted the statement saying it “ was completely contrary to the facts” and that China had a right to claim the South China Sea.