From August 17th – 19th, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to speak at a three day conference entitled “Botho/Ubuntu: A Dialogue with the Dalai Lama Spirituality, Science and Humanity” at Botswana’s capital Gaborone. Botswana and China have enjoyed good bilateral relations for the past 40 years contributing to the economic growth of each country. Upon hearing the Dalai Lama’s intentions, Chinese officials explicitly told Botswana that they frowned upon their decision. Its well known that China and the Dalai Lama have a sour relationship, labelling him a separatist, an issue that dates all the way back to the 1950s. However, Botswana has remained firm in their position, the Dalai Lama will visit.
There has been various thoughts on this issue. Some people are praising Botswana for keeping their stance and showing their independence. After all Botswana is an independent democratic republic in its own right, they should not bend to any country’s will. And China has been notoriously known to be planning on taking over the world so this action against them shows how little power they do have over the world. Other people however, me included, are not of this view. As much as it is important for Botswana to keep it’s independence is it really independent? It is a landlocked country with an economy that is largely based on diamond revenue. They are largely dependent on other countries and the foreign relations they build with them. Pissing off one of their major trade partners can only lead to dire consequences.
So what are the economic implications that could come with this decision? Statistically speaking China accounts for the bulk of Botswana’s exports, 53.4% to be exact. In March 2017, exports destined to Asia were valued at P2, 177.1 million. The major commodity exported to Asia is diamonds, Botswana’s biggest source of revenue. And these diamonds represent 99.7% of all exports to Asia. Not only that, the Chinese government dishes out multiple scholarships to Batswana to study in China. They regularly provide aid to Botswana, one example being the P125 million they provided in order to build a school in Kazungula last year. This would be the third school the country has helped Botswana to build. With such major economic implications you would think the country’s leadership would think twice about this major decision.
One can argue that China is harmless and will actually not follow through on its threats. But this would be inaccurate. Last year in November Mongolia were in the same situation as Botswana and China proceeded to follow through on its threats. They imposed fees on commodity imports from Mongolia and charged additional transit goods on passing through a border crossing into China’s northern region of Inner Mongolia. So exactly what is Botswana trying to prove? As much as the Dalai Lama’s visit has some value, does it really trump the economic value that good relations with China bring? I think not!