Masisi due in China to ‘fix’ strained relations

05 Aug 2018

President Mokgweetsi Masisi is expected to use his visit to China in September to mend strained relations between Botswana and the Chinese government. Masisi, who is set to lead a Botswana delegation to the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation , is expected to use the opportunity to do some damage control and restore cordial relations between the two governments.

Relations between Beijing and Gaborone suffered multiple blows under former president Lieutenant General Ian Khama’s government which had adopted a ‘no nonsense’ foreign policy on issues relating to China and other countries.

Khama became one of the loudest critics of China, at some point even reminding China that Botswana was not their colony.

The former president also complained of what he called poor infrastructure in Botswana built by Chinese state owned companies. Relations between the two reached an all-time low when Khama granted The Dalai Lama permission to take part in a public conference with African leaders, which aimed to address issues around human rights.

China threatened to impose economic sanctions on Botswana if she allowed The Dalai Lama to enter the country but Khama stood his ground. The Dalai Lama however could not make the trip allegedly due ill health, and released a statement thanking Khama’s government “for your unwavering principled stand to welcome me to your country despite overwhelming pressure (from China) not to do so.”

Since taking office in April earlier this year President Masisi has charted his own foreign policy course, diverging from that of his immediate predecessor. Fielding questions from the floor during the International Institute of Strategic Studies 2018 Oppenheim Speech, Masisi spoke at length about China, adopting a rather friendly approach towards the Chinese.

In an apparent break from his predecessor’s stance on China Masisi said it did not matter what Botswana thought of or did China, saying Botswana should adapt itself to living with China and get the best out of what she has in the relationship “and share with them and make them share the values that we have of how sovereign states relate.... China is but a country and the Chinese are but a people. So are we.”

The Office of the President (OP) has confirmed Masisi’s impending visit to China where he will be accompanied by a delegation of representatives from Botswana.

“His Excellency will be attending the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation along with other regional leaders at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping,” Presidential Spokesperson Dr. Jeff Ramsay told Sunday Standard on Friday.

He said Masisi had pledged to enhance Botswana’s friendship and cooperation with China on a bilateral as well as multilateral basis. Speaking at the Botswana-China Business Forum held in Gaborone this week China's ambassador to Botswana, Dr Zhao Yanbo advised Botswana to seize the opportunity to invest in China. He said there were plenty of opportunities to explore business ideas and collaborations between Botswana and China.

Masisi will be Botswana’s first president to visit China in his official capacity in 12 years following former president Festus Mogae’s visit in 2006 when he attended the FOCAC Summit in Beijing combined with an official visit. Mogae, Khama’s immediate predecessor, had always maintained ‘silent diplomacy’ on issues relating to other countries’ national sovereignty as opposed to his successor’s ‘megaphone diplomacy’, with Khama adopting a far more combative approach to issues of foreign relations. Khama has never visited China on an official assignment during his ten year tenure from 2008 to 2018. Before Khama, Botswana had always shied away from making public pronouncements criticizing or condemning other governments. The previous administrations felt that it was not in the best interest of the country to openly criticize other governments.