As the number of confirmed cases escalate around the world, Botswana will continue to adopt its own tailor-made response to keep the virus at bay, Minister of Foreign Affairs Unity Dow has said.
There were still no confirmed cases in Botswana at the time of going to press despite a surging number of COVID-19 infections in neighboring South Africa.
China, where the virus originates, is closing its borders to most foreigners amid fears of imported cases causing a second outbreak.
With Botswana’s bilateral relations with China having improved since President Mokgweetsi Masisi took over, there have been fears of growing Chinese influence on the government.
Botswana’s Foreign Affairs Minister has however dismissed any claims of an unhealthy relationship between the two, particularly in relation to Botswana’s response to the COVD-19 pandemic.
“The suggestion that our response to the Coronavirus is somehow influenced by China, I do not know who said this, and it is an unfortunate position to hold,” Dow said recently.
“The truth is that every single day, China issues a statement on the state of the Coronavirus in China. If for example, the suggestion was that we have no independent mind we just want to echo what China said, we could simply reproduce it.”
Dow however emphasised the strategic importance of having China as a partner, drawing comparisons between China and another superpower, US.
“The truth is that there are 1.4 billion people in China, China is both a developed country and developing country in one and the truth is China has the expertise that other countries are also looking for.” She said the suggestion that somehow there is an unhealthy relationship between Botswana and China while there is a healthy relationship between the US and China, or Germany and China, is not correct.
“I would urge everyone to do a little bit of research, and find out the relationship between China and the countries that you think we should do the relationship with. If you look at the United States of America and China and the relations and trade between them, you look at the number of professors from the US who go to China every summer to teach. If you look at Canada and their target for the Chinese to come for tourism and how they refashioned their own tourism offerings to entice China. If you look at the United Kingdom (UK) and how they interact with China, you will be the only person saying you want a disengaged or limited engagement with China,” Dow said.
She made reference to Botswana’s failure to evacuate students in the heavily affected region of Hubei province following the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan. The Minister said some people had suggested the decision not to evacuate the students was influenced by China, with Botswana trying not to upset the superpower.
“If we evacuate, China would be very happy, you are limiting their burden, so why would they want your people there? When you decide whether or not to evacuate, it has got nothing to do with what China wants or does not want. If everybody was to remove their citizens from Wuhan, they would very happy, because they would have more beds for people to sleep in, their doctors would have fewer patients,” Dow told Parliament. She said the suggestion that China is influencing Botswana’s policy on Coronavirus does not hold water. China closed borders this past week amid fears of another outbreak. The government said in a statement that in view of the rapid spread of Covid-19 across the world, they had decided to temporarily suspend the entry into China by foreign nationals holding visas or residence permits as of March 28, 2020.