Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dalai Lama Cancels South Africa Trip. Did China Trade Ties Get in the Way?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dalai Lama Cancels South Africa Trip. Did China Trade Ties Get in the Way?

Article excerpt

The Dalai Lama said he was forced to cancel a trip to South Africa due to visa delays. Critics say it's a foreign policy embarrassment.

Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama - who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent political and spiritual guidance of the Tibetan people from his government in exile - has canceled a trip to South Africa, saying the South African government didn't issue him a visa.

The Dalai Lama had been invited by fellow Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu to attend Mr. Tutu's 80th birthday celebrations, but the South African government failed to issue him a visa after several weeks of delays. The cancellation is seen by political observers as a sharp embarrassment for the South African government, which refused to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama last year.

Steven Friedman, a political analyst and director of the University of Johannesburg's Center for the Study of Democracy, says that South Africa's delay in issuing a visa was part of the government's growing desire to cultivate relations with China, which has controlled Tibet since invading that country in 1959.

"I think it's a source of international embarrassment," says Mr. Friedman. "South Africa identifies itself more as a partner of BRICS" - the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and now South Africa - "but that is now being taken to absurd levels, and they're behaving as if being a member of BRICS means you have to do what other members of BRICS tell you. I don't think that idea would occur to Russia or China, but somehow it's what we're doing."

China: South Africa's largest trading partner

China recently overtook the US and Britain as South Africa's largest trading partner, and in a trade visit last week led by South African deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, China announced a further $2.5 billion investment plan in South Africa's minerals market, including refineries that would create thousands of new jobs in South Africa.

South Africa didn't actually deny the Dalai Lama a visa this time, although it did do so ahead of the 2010 World Cup. …

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