Saturday, 28 March 2009

China, the Dalai Lama and the ANC: Lessons For Africa?

The refusal of a visa for the Dalai Lama to attend a Peace Conference has dominated headlines in South Africa this week (see cartoon in Mail & Guardian). It has attracted widespread criticism from newspaper columnists, and from the deafening silence emanating from most top members of the ANC it is not hard to imagine what they are thinking. It was, after all, not long ago that Nelson Mandela himself was labelled a terrorist by many countries and denied visiting rights.

Perhaps more interestingly, however, is what implications this may have for China's relationship with Africa. It is an oft-repeated mantra that China is only in Africa for profit, that they don't impose even the most basic of conditionalities and that African governments prefer doing business with them as a result. However, it is clear that China applied considerable pressure on the ANC to refuse entry to the spiritual leader. This comes on the back of a South African spell on the UN Security Council in which they refused to support resolutions on Burma and Darfur, presumably again due to Chinese influence.

This raises several questions. The first, and most important, is whether or not China would seriously have curtailed its investments in South Africa if the Dalai Lama had attended the conference? The answer, I'm sure, is not. The Dalai Lama visits many countries around the world with which China do far greater business than South Africa. The fact remains that China are primarily in Africa for economic, rather than political, reasons. Why, then, was the visa denied? I think this has far more to do with the large amounts of direct funding the ANC party receive from China. Like any political party beholden to one or two major donors they have adapted their policies to ensure that the money continues to flow. Bernie Ecclestone and tobacco advertising immediately springs to mind.

However, in this case China are manipulating an entire country's foreign policy, effectively creating a client state to support their positions on the world stage. Few other African countries have the international clout that South Africa do, making them such an attractive target for the Chinese. I feel, though, that they may have just gone too far this time and I am hopeful the backlash will raise awareness of this new form of neo-colonialism in Africa. Regardless, South Africa must start showing stronger leadership if they truly aspire to join the BRIC countries in creating a new world order.

1 comment:

petesmama said...

I was about to ask the same question you posed... would China really have backed out of good financial deals over the Lama's visa?

As you say, one would expect better judgement and more strength from the leadership in South Africa. Especially if we are relying on them to be of any use in the region and to the continent.