Chinese authorities have admitted, for the first time, that Beijing is against the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, visiting South Africa, saying this would be a threat to the two countries’ growing economic co-operation.
Speaking to a delegation of African media in the Chinese capital, Beijing, last week, the Director-General of the African Affairs Department in the Foreign Ministry, Lin Songtian, said the Dalai Lama had refused to occupy a temple the Chinese government had built for him, preferring to stay in exile.
South Africa signed a number of economic and bilateral agreements with China through the Forum of China-Africa Co-operation held in Johannesburg early this month.
China President Xi Jinping pledged to invest $60 billion (R913 billion) in Africa for infrastructure projects and industrialisation for the next three years.
The Chinese president said this also involved cancelling some debt and helping to boost agriculture.
He gave the undertaking that China would not interfere in African countries’ internal affairs.
Songtian accused the Dalai Lama of being bankrolled by the CIA, saying “he can’t survive through prayer only”.
“We built a house and temple for him, but he doesn’t want to stay there. How can a religious leader keep a shadow government and cabinet in exile?” Songtian asked.
He said China was working closely with President Jacob Zuma to develop 10 special economic zones including the “oceans economy”, agriculture, infrastructure development and financial co-operation.
“He (the Dalai Lama) can’t just come and spoil this for you and we want a friendly atmosphere and environment for this to happen. We invest a lot of money in South Africa and we can’t allow him to come and spoil the good relations,” said Songtian.
Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokesman Clayson Monyela said South Africa had never denied the Dalai Lama a visa to come to South Africa.
“On two previous occasions when he applied, the applications were withdrawn by his own officials. In fact, he is welcome to apply for a visa and that application would go through the Department of Home Affairs official processes. It is just unfortunate that on previous occasions we were never given the opportunity to make that determination.”
Monyela also denied accusations that South Africa was toeing the Chinese line, saying: “Our foreign policy was independent and was not influenced by any other country, including China.”
In March 2009, it was reported that South Africa refused to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama to attend a peace conference because it did not want to shift the world’s attention away from preparations for the 2010 football World Cup tournament to be held in the country.
In 2012, Archbishop Desmond Tutu had to meet the Dalai Lama in India after the Tibetan spiritual leader called off his South African visit. It was reported at the time that the South African government had refused to grant him a visa as it had close ties with China. On that occasion, the Dalai Lama was invited by Tutu on his 80th birthday.
Last year, the Dalai Lama again cancelled a trip to Cape Town after being refused entry to South Africa for a third time in five years.
He had been invited to attend the 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates.