/ 23 March 2009

Tibetans blame China for Dalai Lama visa denial

The India-based Tibetan government-in-exile confirmed on Monday that South Africa has denied the Dalai Lama a visa, blaming ”intense pressure” from China.

A spokesperson for the spiritual leader said he was ”very disappointed” by the decision.

The Dalai Lama had planned to join other Nobel peace laureates at a conference to discuss ways of using football to fight racism and xenophobia ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

”It is true that South Africa, under intense pressure from the Chinese authorities, have denied a visa to the Dalai Lama,” said spokesperson Thubten Samphel.

”Since His Holiness says he will not inconvenience any government, we at the Tibetan administration will not issue any strong response.

”But we are certainly very disappointed,” Samphel said.

South Africa’s Sunday Independent newspaper quoted China’s minister counsellor at the embassy in Pretoria, Dai Bing, as saying that his government had urged South Africa to deny the visit or risk bilateral relations.

Dai told the paper it was an ”inopportune time” for the Dalai Lama to visit, coming just after the 50th anniversary of a failed uprising against China’s rule of Tibet, which led to the Dalai Lama’s exile.

On Sunday the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Dalai Lama was not invited to South Africa because it was in the best interests of the country.

”As far as the South African government is concerned, no invitation was extended to the Dalai Lama to visit South Africa,” spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said. ”So therefore the question of the visas doesn’t exist.”

He said: ”Our position and approach is that we have not invited the Dalai Lama to visit South Africa.”

Any invitation to that function would have had to have gone out with the full consent of the government.

Mamoepa would not elaborate on his comment that it was in the best interests of the country not to invite the Dalai Lama.

Asked if the government had been asked by the Chinese government not to grant a visa, Mamoepa said: ”This [the decision not to invite him] is an independent, sovereign decision.”

The people invited were coming specifically for the function on how football could be used in conflict resolution, he explained.

He had only seen the media reports that the Chinese government had exerted pressure on South Africa.

”I am not aware of any approach by the Chinese,” he said.

”A betrayal of our struggle history”
The report in the Sunday Independent quoted Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who is in California, saying he had written to President Kgalema Motlanthe asking for an explanation.

”If His Holiness’s visa is refused, then I won’t take part in the coming 2010 World Cup-related peace conference,” Tutu said.

”I will condemn government’s behaviour as disgraceful, in line with our country’s abysmal record at the United Nations Security Council, a total betrayal of our struggle history.

”We are shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure. I feel deeply distressed and ashamed.”

The Dalai Lama had been invited by his three fellow South African Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, former presidents Nelson Mandela and FW De Klerk, and Tutu.

Dave Steward, spokesperson for the FW De Klerk Foundation, told the Sunday Independent: ”There is no reason why the Dalai Lama, who is recognised as a champion of peace, and as a Nobel Laureate, should be denied entry into South Africa.

”South Africa should not allow any country to dictate who it should and should not allow to visit.”

The newspaper wrote that the Dalai Lama, who is honorary co-chairperson of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre, was denied travel documents on March 4 and asked to postpone the trip amid opposition from the Chinese government.

It reported that South Africa is one of China’s key trade partners in Africa, accounting for 20,8% of China’s trade with the continent. Chinese foreign direct investment in South Africa is about $6-billion (R60-billion). South Africa’s foreign direct investment in China is about $2-billion (R20-billion).

The Dalai Lama was invited to speak at the conference, whose line-up includes the Nobel Peace Prize committee from Norway and actors Charlize Theron and Morgan Freeman.

In a statement on Sunday, Democratic Alliance foreign affairs spokesperson Tony Leon said he was shocked and disappointed by the decision.

”With South Africa having just concluded its Human Rights Day celebrations, it beggars belief that our government would go out of its way to block the Dalai Lama — an apostle of peace, who is revered throughout the world for his unwavering commitment to non-violence, human rights and cultural freedom — from entering the country,” Leon said.

”This decision, reportedly taken at the behest of the Chinese government, flies in the face of all logic, and suggests that — contrary to popular belief — South Africa’s foreign policy is not determined internally and independently, but rather on the instruction of foreign governments.”

The Independent Democrats said on Sunday that Friday’s planned peace conference can’t be called a peace conference without the Dalai Lama.

Leader Patricia de Lille said that moves not to have the Tibetan spiritual leader attend the 2010 World Cup peace conference are hypocritical.

”We in the Independent Democrats believe that by giving in to China or any other country’s demands, the government is saying to the world that we do not afford other peoples the same rights we are afforded in our own Constitution,” a statement from her office said.

The Dalai Lama has visited South Africa twice before. In 1999 he took part in the World Parliament of Religions and met then president Thabo Mbeki.

However, a row broke out after Mbeki agreed to see the Dalai Lama again separately. The Chinese government protested and Mbeki cancelled the meeting.

In 2004 the Dalai Lama again visited South Africa as a guest of the African Cultural Heritage Trust. — Sapa-AFP