Gaborone (Botswana) (AFP) – Botswana on Tuesday confirmed it will allow the Dalai Lama to visit next month as “a foreign dignitary” in the face of China’s fierce opposition to the Tibetan spiritual leader.
Beijing views the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist campaigning for Tibetan independence and consistently condemns foreign governments who welcome him.
Botswana Foreign Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi told lawmakers that the visit was “purely private” but added that the Dalai Lama would be granted the status of a foreign dignitary.
She did not confirm a government announcement last week that he would meet President Ian Khama, which prompted a stern response from Beijing.
However the president will “extend basic courtesies for Dalai Lama” and the government protocol office “is charged with the responsibility to facilitate foreign dignitaries… this includes Dalai Lama,” the foreign minister said.
Venson-Moitoi also said in a parliamentary answer that “the principle of non-interference in the international affairs of other countries is at the core of China’s foreign policy”.
“We therefore expect… China to respect our sovereign decision on this matter.”
The Tibetan leader, who lives in exile in India, is due to speak at the three-day “Mind and Life Dialogue” conference in Botswana’s capital Gaborone on August 19.
Venson-Moitoi expressed the hope that the visit would not “diminish the existing strong bonds” between the two countries.
China is a key investor across Africa and the continent’s largest trade partner and in Botswana it has helped build coal-fired power plants, road networks, bridges and schools.
The Dalai Lama says he is seeking more autonomy for Tibet rather than outright independence.