Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi last week stoked the fires in the raging diplomatic standoff between Botswana and China, saying Botswana remains unapologetic about its recent criticism of the Chinese government for using its economic and military might to impose its power over others.
Masisi’s utterances came in the wake of criticism leveled at Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi by opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) last week; calling on the government of Botswana to tender a formal apology to China. Opposition MP’s asked if Venson-Moitoi had considered the consequences of her actions before issuing a statement that led to a diplomatic row between the two countries. The first salvo was thrown by MP for Gaborone Central Phenyo Butale, who said he doubts whether Venson-Moitoi has full appreciation of the background and history of the conflict in the South China Sea. Butale also faulted Botswana for not following the right diplomatic channels to air its grievances.
“You cannot shout in the bush and expect to be heard by somebody. You have diplomatic channels through which you can communicate your grievances; and I wonder if little obscure Botswana wants to be caught-up in the conflict between China and America,” said Butale.
“Minister Venson-Moitoi, how can you tell China what to do, with what? This is unacceptable and the honorable Minister must serve the interest of the country, not individuals.”
At this juncture, Masisi came to Venson-Moitoi’s defense insisting that Botswana’s foreign policy is well understood by Africa and the world.
“I am indeed amazed when the opposition says we had no moral right to state our position. Let me remind you, Botswana’s foreign policy is informed by our own domestic policy and democratic credentials. We are a very tolerant society. This is Botswana’s foreign policy; we respect and protect it,” said Masisi.
He added that Botswana has rights like no other time before to express its views in a manner that is premised on the values of democracy, peace and determination to resolve conflict through dialogue.
“Why are we making a hullabaloo about a statement that was issued by government? We have made statements to powerful countries that are friendly to us before and we will continue doing that,” said Masisi.
For her part, Venson-Moitoi said Botswana’s voice has depth as the country is a beacon of peace and stability in the world.
“The world listens when we talk. We don’t live in a little and obscure country as the opposition thinks, Botswana is big. We are big because we have a lot to show to the world. There are not many countries that can display what we display. The world listens when we talk,” she said.
Moitoi further said Botswana’s statement was not focusing on any particular country but referring to a group of friends who were involved in the conflict.
“China simply decided to react the way she did. We cannot keep quiet when everybody involved in that conflict is a friend of ours. Some of them were buying and loading weapons; illegally flying foreign airplanes in the area; drilling oil and fishing without permission. We made a general statement that was not specifically targeted at China,” said Venson-Moitoi.