One of the reasons why President Ian Khama is being aggressive with the Chinese may be found in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve. For over two months, Botswana faced off with China over the visit of the Dalai Lama. The visit never happened because a week before the Tibetan spiritual leader was to feature at an event that was to be held at Botho University in Gaborone, the organisers announced that he was too physically exhausted to come to Botswana. In an interview that he subsequently did with Botswana Guardian, Khama said that he planned to invite Nobel Peace Prize laureates to Botswana.
The Dalai Lama won that prize in 1989 and so qualifies. Those who study international economics and international relations were baffled by Botswana’s stance against a country that will certainly be the next superpower. Sources said that China’s planned to cut off all ties with Botswana in the event that the Dalai Lama made what would have been his very first visit to Africa. In the Botswana Guardian interview, Khama hinted that Botswana would have retaliated but would not elaborate. “I would rather not state that but I would say we are waiting and watching to see what they will do and then we will respond,” he said.
Details are still sketchy but Khama’s invitation to the Nobel Peace Prize laureates means that another showdown with China is looming. So, if the Dalai Lama does eventually come to Botswana and China imposes economic sanctions, how could the former respond? According to the latest edition (August 31, 2017) of the mineral concession energy map of precious stones, a state-owned Chinese company called Zhong Gan Engineering and Construction (Botswana) is among those that are prospecting for minerals in the CKGR. The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the China Jiangxi Corporation for International Economic and Technical Cooperation. Zhong Gan has been doing construction business in Botswana and in 2013, PPC Botswana, a construction materials manufacturer, honoured it for the second best performing company in the country. The company now wants to venture into mining and according to the precious stones map, has been awarded three concessions to prospect for those in the CKGR.
The concessions, which have been renewed once, expire at the end of this month but the company has the option of applying for another renewal. What this means is that at a time that Botswana and China were exchanging bitter words over the Dalai Lama’s visit, a state-owned Chinese company was prospecting for minerals in the CKGR with the permission of the Botswana government. If China has to impose sanctions on Botswana in the future, its companies ÔÇô including Zhong Gan – will stop doing business in Botswana. Diamonds have been discovered in the CKGR and through Jwaneng, Botswana produces the world’s best gem-quality diamonds. Every indication is that China is trying to get in on the diamond action and where best to do that than in a country that produces the best diamonds in the world.
However, the concessions and whatever else may not be sufficient leverage over China which considers the Dalai Lama to be a separatist. The country doesn’t take kindly to being challenged on its One-China Policy through which it insists that countries that it has bilateral relations with should accept Tibet and Taiwan to be part of China.