Saturday, July 11, 2020

Khama’s Dalai Lama dilemma threatened Botswana, China relations

China threatened to severe diplomatic ties with Botswana over Gaborone’s decision to allow Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama into the country back in 2017.
This was revealed by Permanent Secretary to the President Carter Morupisi when addressing the media in Gaborone on Friday.

The Dalai Lama was set to visit Gaborone for Aug. 17 to 19, as part of what Botswana officials dubbed a “purely private” visit organized by the Non Governmental Organisation(NGO) Mind and Life Institute and the Botho University. 

The trip was cancelled by the Dalai Lama citing ill health.

According to Morupisi, at the time when Khama was the sitting President, Cabinet held several meetings in an effort to find a way on how to “respect China’s core interests and make the correct political decision.” 

He said Cabinet was alive to the fact that Botswana was benefitting from Chinese infrastructure development, skilled personnel and loans adding that that came with the recognition of the One China policy.

“The former President at the time was the head of State and we begged him to look into the issue by reminding him that as a country we have to respect the One China policy,” said Morupisi. He said as a sovereign state, Botswana was also bound to respect the One China policy so that China can also reciprocate.

At the time, Morupisi said, he took it upon himself to hold talks with officials at China Embassy in Gaborone in an effort to convince Beijing not to cut ties with Gaborone.

“As if God was answering our prayers, it happened that the Dalai Lama did not make it to Gaborone as planned due to ill health. We were happy to have his trip to Botswana not come to fruition,” he said. Morupisi said had the Dalai Lama’s trip not been cancelled, Botswana would felt the brunt of failing to respect the One China policy.

“As a chairman of Debswana I can speak with authority that 30 percent of Botswana’s diamonds is consumed by China market. It is not that they don’t have option to buy diamonds elsewhere, they can buy from countries like Russia,” he said.

Morupisi said Botswana was benefiting from skilled personnel from China in the form of medical doctor specialists adding that Botswana benefited from Chinese students sponsorship and loans.

“They threatened to stop all those. We told Khama that the national interest should come first. They also threatened to shut down their embassy. You can imagine what could have happened to hundreds of Botswana investors who import their merchandise from China,” he said.  

Touching on the recent visit to India by Khama to meet the Dalai Lama, Morupisi said when the government learned about the planned trip, he personally “picked up the phone and called his (the Dalai Lama) people in South Africa and asked that if Khama doesn’t travel to India these are the reasons.”

Morupisi also stated that they engaged Khama to show him that the journey he was scheduled to embark on did not outweigh national interest. Morupisi said Khama’s security detail defied instruction from the government not to travel to India with him. He said the security detail is currently facing disciplinary action because they had sworn allegiance to the Commander in Chief (President Masisi) and not anybody else.

“They are aware of this and they should not have defied instructions from the President not to travel with the former President,” said Morupisi.
 

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.