Wednesday, October 5, 2011

China’s South Africa: Denial of the Dalai Lama's visa

China is a not a democracy with a Constitution that governs through the rule of law. We should not allow it to have an undue influence on matters that go to the heart of our political independence - Stevens Mokgalapa, Democratic Alliance MP, South Africa

After long pending weeks of waiting for the South African Government's to grant a visa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Delhi finally breaks the silence and made a statement in calling off visit.

In the statement, His Holiness expressed regrets over “inconveniences caused to his hosts and the large number of South African public who were keenly waiting to receive him and hear his message.”1

Earlier in 2009, South Africa rejected His Holiness’ visa as he was to attend an International Peace Conference in Johannesburg. Thabo Masebe, the Presidential Spokesperson at that time clearly stated that His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit was not in the interest of South Africa.2

Fellow Nobel Laureates of South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and De Klerk expressed their sadness over the government’s decision and went on to boycott the event, which was held to promote South Africa as the Champion of human rights, prior to hosting the World Cup Soccer. De Klerk said that the decision to refuse the visa made a "mockery" of the peace conference.

In 2011, after a gap of two years, South African Government yet again crawls over the problem in issuing a visa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This time, Archbishop Desmond Tutu invited him to give a lecture on his 80th birthday celebration and has other engagements and lectures in several universities and organizations. He is also invited to receive the prestigious Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Peace and Reconciliation.

Despite serious and continued efforts from His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s office and the event organizers in South Africa, the Government had purposefully delayed in making a final decision, which clearly indicates that they are still not committed to welcome His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Recently, President Jacob Zuma pretends that “I don't know what will be the final thing. I don't think that you can get a definite answer from me."3 Such ignorance on this matter, which has been revolving around South African Ministries over two months, shows a blatant lies.

Pertaining to the delay of issuing visa, His Holiness the Dalai Lama made his final decision to call off the visit, so to avoid further inconvenience to the South African Government. In return, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson Clayson Monyela somehow put blame on His Holiness and said that they did not refuse His Holiness a visa and the visa application is still under consideration. He stated that "South Africa will not comment on the decision, because it is not our decision, it is his decision.”4

His Holiness the Dalai Lama was scheduled to visit South Africa from 6-14 October 2011, but the South African Government kept their indecisive attitude rolling around till the end, so that the matters will die down without much hype. Even on 4th September, just two days before the visit, they have not taken the decision and calls that the matter is still under consideration. How serious are they?

Like 2009 denial of visa, many amongst the Tibet observers believe that China plays an imminent role from behind the curtain in pushing South Africa to force His Holiness in cancelling his visit. With His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s current statement over the visit, South African Government may be on a sigh as their waiting game paid off well. But at who’s cost? Over the months, Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Peace Trust and other organizers were desperately anxious and materially drained out for the preparation of His Holiness visit. Their attempts to pursue the government felt into deaf ears, which could negatively turns back to the government in a years to come.

In 2009, Desmond Tutu furiously condemned the South African government for denying visa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. That time, he said, "disgraceful, in line with our country's abysmal record at the U.N. Security Council, a total betrayal of our struggle history," He further added, "we are shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure. I feel deeply distressed and ashamed."5 Even this year, with the prolong hesitance of issuing visa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Tutu was profoundly sad with the gift of ‘No Dalai Lama’ for his 80th birthday. .

Nomfundo Walaza, chief executive of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre, was sad over the turn of an event. She said, "It's a shame. I think it's the darkest moment in the history of this country for this to be allowed to happen. We worked so hard on this, we put our heart and soul into it. For a religious leader of the Dalai Lama's standing to be refused is not acceptable. It's sad that this is what our democracy is all about."6

Aung Sun Su Kyi, fellow Nobel laureate also shared her deep concerns and expressed, "Sometimes we get the feeling perhaps that South Africa, or rather I must be frank and say perhaps South African authorities, do not support the struggle for democracy and human rights as enthusiastically as, for example, individuals like archbishop Desmond Tutu,"7

On 28 September 2011, China’s Vice President, Xi Jinping met South African Vice President Kgalema Motlanthe in Beijing and appreciated South Africa’s valuable support on the Tibet issues.8

For the record, Zuma administration rejected His Holiness visit twice and prior to that His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited thrice in South Africa in 1996, 1999 and 2004 and was received by former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, one of the organizers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit, raised the doubt over China’s influence and said, "Everybody thinks this is because of pressure from China. It's very sad that another country is allowed to dictate terms to our government. It's going back to apartheid times. I am ashamed of my own country."

In order to understand China’s blanket control over South African foreign policy, it is vital to know about the background of Sino-South African diplomatic and economic relationship, which they considered a ‘reliable partner’.

South Africa: Under the dragon

In early 20th Century, first group of Chinese people entered South Africa to work in the Gold Mines, but were not allowed to permanently settle. But, by 1910, almost all the Chinese were repatriated but some remained to settle in South Africa. During the Apartheid rule, Chinese settlers were discriminated and labeled as ‘Colored’. With much debates and grievances, they were later changed to ‘black’ with the adoption of new rules, which gives equal benefits to the Chinese settlers who were citizens of South Africa prior to 1994.9

South Africa initially started their diplomatic and economic alliance with Taiwan in 1970s. But after Nelson Mandela became the first elected President of South Africa in 1994, he maintained dual relationships with Taiwan and People’s Republic of China. Since then South Africa witnessed huge influx of immigrants and investment from China, with the total estimate of 300,000 Chinese in South Africa at this moment.

The real diplomatic relations with China was expended in 1998, when South Africa redrew their foreign policy by shifting their traditional partnership away from Europe and America. Since the end of 1997 to 2000, new series of highlevel official visits between China and South Africa were held frequently to construct diplomatic and economic partnership. The chronological events of the subsequent high profile visits and meetings are given in the table.10

China’s Charm Offensive: Zuma Carried Away

While going through the initial stages of South Africa and China’s relationship, that involves South-South Cooperation, the forum of Sino-Africa Cooperation, International and domestic politics and others, South Africa leans much towards China, as their mentor. Over a decade, President Zuma has been directly engaging with China through various portfolios and was charmed by China’s great success in introducing market economy. He was widely influenced by China and had even called China, a strategic partner, not only for South Africa but also for whole Africa.11

Even for China, South Africa plays a very strategic role on their diplomatic front in promoting multipolar system, which China sells over the whole world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. China fears that the United States of America, the unilateral super power may dictate the world with her hegemonic power. In 2006, after South Africa became the non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, her decision on issues like Darfur, Zimbabwe and Burma (Myanmar) goes parallel to China. This clearly shows that South Africa’s position on human rights and democracy dries along with her decaying role of human rights crusader in Africa. South Africa, being the largest economy of African continent, with significant power, China aims to use South Africa as their partner, so that it could become a voice of China in Africa. Indeed, China dictates the very political spectrum of South Africa in the International system and in domestic affairs.

Irrespective of many complaints by the civil societies and prominent personalities in South Africa, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visa was rejected and cancelled two of his trips over the years. The cancellation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit happens during the tenure of Zuma’s administration. Zuma’s sincerity towards China has been test over the times and China shall soon consider him a ‘trusted friend’, for bowing down South Africa’s sovereignty to China.

Economic Diplomacy: Asymmetric in nature

After the first election in South Africa in 1994, the whole economy suffered with huge unemployment problem with some pending debts. An outreach to China was expected as China holds a strategy to exploit Africa, which includes ‘going global strategy’, to pursue the Chinese companies to acquire overseas assets especially energy and raw materials. Each year, South Africa exports raw materials (iron ore, copper, chrome, timber and paper pulp) worth $6.57 billion to China and imports $9.45 billion worth of mostly cheap manufacturing goods.12

A decade long diplomatic ties provide platforms for the economic engagement between South Africa and China, which helps South Africa to become a member of BRICS. China became its largest trading partner with a significant rises in the two-way trade from $800 million in 1998 to $11.2 billion in October 2007.13

With the expending trade, many of the small scaled manufacturing units in South Africa suffer huge losses and became a victim of government’s integrative policy with China. Currently, South Africa has the largest Chinese population in Africa. Ambassador Bheki Langa rightly said that, “You can see Chinese business people even in rural areas of South Africa.”14

What is the future of South Africa?

The future of South Africa will be very challenging as all the attentions are focus on market economy, leaving the aspiration of people under dismay. Freedom and human rights, which they advocated for decades, had seen rotten under their feet, without much dignity. China has blinded South Africa with their diplomatic and economic tricks, which in the case of future will be hard to forgo. The ‘equal footing’ concept of South Africa in the International system remains just symbolic as they got carried away by the ultimate commands of their Chinese masters. Lastly, May Lord bless South Africa and its people, who struggled and won over the Colonial oppression. May they have a true wisdom to be guarded against the Neocolonist China.



1 comment:

  1. Great your blog:) The abrogation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's visit happens amid the residency of Zuma's organization. Zuma's genuineness towards China has been test over the times and China might soon think of him as a 'trusted companion', for bowing down South Africa's power to China. Thanks all!!