S.Africa-China trade trumped Dalai Lama visa: official

7th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

A senior South African official admitted that the Dalai Lama was blocked from attending Desmond Tutu's 80th birthday celebrations in October to preserve vital trade ties with China.

Home Affairs secretary-general Mkuseli Apleni said in a court affidavit quoted by the Times daily that his advice to his minister on the Tibetan spiritual leader's visa application was not to jeopardise ties with Beijing.

"In giving advice... regarding the application for a visa by the Dalai Lama, I had recourse to our trade relations with China," Apleni said, replying to two opposition parties' court challenge over the handling of the visa debacle.

The "backlash" for France and Australia "provided some learning to the government and the sensitivities that were attendant" to allowing the visit by the Dalai Lama, whom China considers a dangerous separatist, said Apleni.

French and Australian heads of state met separately with the Tibetan spiritual leader in 2008, souring diplomatic relations with China.

China is South Africa's biggest trade partner with exports from Africa's biggest economy reaching $4.9 billion (3.7 billion euros) in the first six months of the year.

The Dalai Lama called off his trip days ahead of Tutu's birthday in October, saying he had received no news about his visa, two years after South Africa already denied him a visa over fears of jeopardising ties with China.

Apleni insisted that the home affairs minister had not acted "under the dictates of China," but "further took into account the fact that the deputy president had just conducted a successful visit to China."

The country also felt indebted to China for orchestrating South Africa's invitation to join BRICS, the group of developing giants Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Opposition parties the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Congress of the People (Cope) filed papers in the Cape High Court the same month. The case is still before court.

South Africa never publicly announced whether it would grant a visa to the Dalai Lama, who was scheduled to give a speech to mark Tutu's 80th birthday.

The Dalai Lama cancelled the trip, saying he had received no news about his visa, provoking a furious reply from Tutu who called President Jacob Zuma's administration "worse than the apartheid government" for bowing to China and ignoring the values of the liberation movement.

© 2011 AFP

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