The stats are in and they show that if the controversy over the Dalai Lama visit had to be decided on the basis of economic diplomacy, Premier Xi Jinping would not have blinked one split second. The African Development Bank has just released its statistical brief on selected socio-economic indicators on Africa which shows that Botswana is China’s least important trading partner in Africa. In 2016, Botswana exports to China totalled a mere 1 percent. Contrast that with Sudan’s 47 percent, Angola’s 46 percent, Congo’s 44 percent, Eritrea’s 38 percent and Mauritania’s 33 percent.
Botswana’s exports to China for that year amounted to US$43.4 million. The same percentage figure goes for imports which amounted to US$141.8 million. That notwithstanding, China emerged as the fifth largest exporter to Botswana after South Africa, Namibia, Canada and Belgium. In terms of external trade for 2016 with Botswana, China doesn’t feature in the five largest origins of total trade. The honour goes to South Africa, Belgium, Namibia, India and United Arab Emirates in that order. The total external trade between Botswana and China for that year was US$185.2 million. At a total of US$1288.7 million, Botswana did more trade with India than it with China and the United States (US$409.7 million) combined. Of the 46 African countries that China conducted external trade with, Botswana is at the bottom of the list with a volume of only 1 percent.
At 2 percent each, both Lesotho and Swaziland did more external trade with China than Botswana. It remains unclear how much of these trade statistics were a factor when Botswana and China clashed over a visit by the Tibetan Spiritual Leader, the Dalai Lama. Against the wishes of China, a United States-based organisation called the Mind & Body Institute made arrangements for the Dalai Lama to visit Botswana. China immediately launched a campaign which, at its height, had the Chinese Ambassador lobbying cabinet ministers individually. The country was adamant that allowing the Dalai Lama into Botswana violated the One-China Policy which Botswana committed itself to in 1975 when it derecognized and cut off diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
China considers both Taiwan and Tibet to be its constituent parts. The saga ended with the Dalai Lama cancelling his trip to Botswana. Had he come to Botswana, that would have been his first visit to Africa. All other African countries, including South Africa – have denied him entry for fear of angering China which would reportedly have cut off diplomatic and all other ties with Botswana had the visit actually happened. Following this saga, President Ian Khama told Botswana Guardian that had China taken punitive action, Botswana would also have retaliated. It is unclear what he meant but Botswana would definitely have suffered more than China.