Prior to the scheduled Dalai Lama’s visit to Botswana, a bronze statue was stolen from a temple in Gaborone, Botswana’s capital. The Dalai Lama however didn’t eventually visit, after cancelling his trip, which would have made it his first visit to Africa. China, the largest trading partner of Botswana and many other African countries objected to the planned Dalai Lama’s visit.
Unlike its neighbour South Africa that denied the Dalai Lama entry into the country three times, Botswana’s Foreign Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi said her country is a sovereign state and would determine who would visit or not. China’s economic grip on many African countries through trade partnerships has positioned the Asian country strategically to the continent. China has consistently used economic threats against South Africa should it allow the Dalai Lama entry into the country.
Botswana’s President Ian Khama however did not take kindly to the Chinese warnings. He told Botswana Guardian, “China engaged in intimidation, they told me things like the Ambassador may be recalled, it would damage relations between Botswana and China, that they would engage other African countries to isolate Botswana.”
The Botswana Foreign Ministry described the Dalai Lama’s visit as strictly personal but that did not stop China from expressing its anger at the proposed visit. Last year the then U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed the Tibetan leader amidst objection from China. The meeting took place in the White House Map Room, not the Oval Office where the president meets with foreign heads of state.
China does not view the Dalai Lama as a pure religious figure but as an anti-China separatist who plots under the cloak of religion. The Dalai Lama was unable to make the trip to Botswana due to health issues. President Khama said, “So we assume he will make a speedy recovery and once he has recovered, he is of course welcome to come and visit Botswana.”
China’s economic ties to Botswana are based on its mineral resources. China is the second largest buyer of Botswana’s diamonds. Botswana has however been unhappy with the quality of infrastructural development China produces, causing a rift between the two countries.
The Dalai Lama was scheduled to give a speech at an event hosted by a Virginia-based NGO, the Life and Mind Institute.