Wednesday, October 21, 2020

China Sea rattles Gaborone Beijing uneasy relations again

In a curious turn of events, Botswana asked Chinese diplomats last week to call off a scheduled press conference to brief the media on the outcome of the disputed South China Sea case that was before the International Arbitration.

Ambassador Zheng Zhu Zhuqiang and Director, Political Section at the Chinese Embassy Tang Shenping were on 13th July summoned to the Office of the President ahead of a press conference that was scheduled to start at 1500 hours on the same day.

One of the consular officials confirmed to journalists that Zhuquiang and Shenping were locked in a meeting at the Office of the President with Botswana authorities. The official did not provide specifics save to say Zhuqiang has tendered his apology in advance that he would address journalists “a bit late.” 

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Daphne Mlotshwa said she was not in a position to comment as her bosses were outside the country.

Sunday Standard has it on good authority that at the heated meeting, Zhuqiang conceded that the scheduled press conference should be called off. But Shenping prevailed insisting that the press conference should go ahead as planned.

Contacted for a comment, Shenping who normally responds to Sunday Standard questions this week declined to comment insisting that “we cannot comment beyond what was discussed at the press conference.”

 It is understood that the Chinese embassy and Botswana authorities struck a deal that the press conference would be confined to the outcome of the ruling South China Sea only and not discuss the apparent tense diplomatic relations between the two countries on the disputed land.

At the press conference Zhuqiang and Shenping prefaced their statements with a disclaimer that they would not field questions from journalists “that is not focused on the outcome of the South China Sea.

At the press conference, Zhuqiang explained that at least 67 countries supported China’s decision not to recognise the decision of the Arbitration Court publicly.

Asked if Botswana was among those countries, he expressed hope that Gaborone will back his country’s decision not to recognise the outcome of the Arbitration Court.

“Botswana has not made a comment publicly on the issue. We hope that Botswana gets to understand China’s position and will support China,” said the diplomat. It is understood that Botswana had initially made it clear that it would support the decision of the Arbitration Court whether it was in favour of China or other parties in the disputed island.

A diplomatic source this week warned that Botswana should tread carefully as it risks being blacklisted from China’s US$60 billion development package earmarked for Africa that Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged US$60bn to development in Africa, during the Forum on China Africa Cooperation in South Africa, in December 2015.

Botswana’s application was confirmed by Foreign Affairs Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, who told parliament recently that the Botswana government has submitted projects for possible benefit under the package. Venson-Moitoi did not elaborate on the projects for which the government is seeking funding from Beijing.

But Venson-Moitoi defended Botswana’s stance saying many countries view Botswana as a beacon of peace and stability and as such when the country talks, the world listens.

“We have achieved a lot in 50 years that a lot have not achieved. Botswana has achieved a lot since independence and as such when we talk the world listens.

“But we never talk outside diplomatic channels. People are saying we should have a codified foreign policy but we say we cannot do that because the world around us is not rigid,” she said.

The diplomatic source said China is expecting a lot of support to come from the African continent where it continues to inject billions of Dollars in the form of loans to a number of countries.

“In Africa 37 countries support China publicly. I believe majority of the country in the region especially in Africa will support China,” said Zhuqiang.  

While the diplomatic source said China is prepared to go to war over South China Sea, the ambassador insisted that his country wants the issue to be resolved through negotiations.

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