An aide to the Dalai Lama said on Thursday he had cancelled a trip to South Africa for a Nobel laureates’ summit because Pretoria had denied him a visa to avoid angering Beijing.
Previous rejections of the Dalai Lama’s visa requests by the African National Congress government have angered South Africans, who see it as a betrayal of the country’s commitment to human rights since apartheid ended 20 years ago.
“China highly appreciates the support offered by the South African government on issues concerning China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a regular briefing.
“We also believe that South Africa will continue to uphold this correct position and continue to support China in this regard.”
South Africa has produced four Nobel peace laureates – Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk – and foundations connected to each of them had backed the summit scheduled for Cape Town next month.
The Dalai Lama travelled to South Africa several times after the end of apartheid.
But his aide, Nangsa Choedon, told AFP that Pretoria had “conveyed by phone to me they will not be able to grant the visa for the reason that it would disturb relations between China and South Africa”.
China, which accuses the Dalai Lama of secretly seeking Tibet’s independence, regularly deploys its economic and political muscle to pressure governments to limit contact with him.
Beijing is South Africa’s biggest single trading partner, with two-way trade worth $21 billion in 2012. Both countries also co-operate in the BRICS grouping of emerging economies along with Brazil, India and Russia.
Qin reiterated Beijing’s view of the Dalai Lama.
“The Dalai Lama is a political exile who has long been engaged in activities sabotaging China’s sovereignty and integrity under the cloak of religion,” he said.
“The Chinese government is firmly opposed to the Dalai’s anti-China separatist activities in foreign countries.”