The Dalai Lama’s visit to Botswana topped Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang’s daily news briefings on Wednesday as Beijing stepped up its warning to Gaborone over the planned visit by exiled Tibetan spiritual leader next month.
Unconfirmed intelligence reports further revealed that the Chinese government is also lobbying friendly African countries to block from their airspace any flight ferrying the Dalai Lama to Gaborone.
The Dalai Lama, reviled by Beijing as a dangerous separatist, is expected to address a human rights conference in the capital, Gaborone, on August 17 and 19 and will also meet President Ian Khama. China is a major investor in Botswana’s economy.
“First, Botswana has confirmed that Dalai Lama will be visiting next month. What is China’s comment on this? Second, the Pentagon has said that it has picked up signs that the DPRK is preparing for another missile test. I am wondering if China has any comment. Third, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said today that there has been progress in talks with China on imposing new UN sanctions on the DPRK. Do you have any further information to add to that?” asked a journalist during the press briefing.
China has already “clearly” expressed its point of view about the Dalai Lama’s visit, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a daily news briefing.
“Issues relating to Tibet concern China’s sovereignty and territory integrity. We demand the relevant country earnestly respect China’s core interests and make the correct political decision on this matter,” Lu said, using stronger language than before on the issue.
“China will not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, but will certainly not tolerate another country doing anything that harms China’s core interests,” he added, without elaborating.
Unconfirmed reports further stated that China was also lobbying friendly African countries to block from their airspace any flight transporting the Dalai Lama to Botswana. China’s fast-growing demand for raw materials has made it one of the biggest investors in Africa and its largest trade partner.
The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the traditional religious and temporal head of Tibetan Buddhists. He was made head of state at age 15 in 1950, the same year that Chinese troops occupied Tibet.
The Dalai Lama held negotiations with Chinese officials on Tibetan self-rule with little success. In 1959, he fled Tibet for exile in India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
Over the years, the Dalai Lama has continued to lobby for self-rule in Tibet. Tibetans around the world revere him as their spiritual leader and cultural icon. He has traveled the globe, attending meditation conferences, giving speeches in universities and parliaments, and meeting people from all walks of life, from CEOs to Hollywood stars to heads of state. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
Overseas, the Dalai Lama is a celebrated figure. In China, he is a despised troublemaker.
Chinese officials have vilified him as a “wolf in monk’s clothing” who seeks to destroy the country’s sovereignty by pushing for independence. The Dalai Lama maintains that he does not advocate independence but wants an autonomy that would allow Tibetans to maintain their cultural, language and religion under China’s rule. China remains unconvinced.
“The Dalai Lama states that he is not seeking Tibetan independence, but Beijing sees this as a mere cover, because he has never openly given up the demand for so-called ‘Greater Tibet’ autonomy, so Beijing sees his meetings with world leaders as pushing for political goals,”Wenran Jiang, political science professor at University of Alberta told the American media.
Though the Dalai Lama heads a Tibetan government-in-exile not recognised by any country, his receptions and meetings with world leaders prompt China’s stern condemnation.
To China, Tibet is a sensitive “core issue.” The Chinese find it unacceptable when they see the Dalai Lama treated as a VIP, or even akin to a head of state, because they view it as a challenge to China’s national sovereignty and claim over Tibet.
“Anything that could damage national unity is dangerous, that’s why it’s intolerable. The advocacy and activities of the Dalai Lama and his followers are actually dangerous, especially because they use words like ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ to gain sympathy overseas,” said Gao Yi, a history professor at Peking University.
For months, China gave Germany the cold shoulder after German Chancellor Angela Merkel met the Tibetan leader. Relations between the European Union and China were briefly in the doldrums after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama while France held the EU’s rotating presidency.
South Africa has denied a visa to the Buddhist monk three times since 2009 in what opposition parties there, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, say shows the extent of Beijing’s influence over Pretoria.