Barring of Dalai Lama raises ire
South Africa says China ties at stake
JOHANNESBURG - South Africa barred the Dalai Lama from a peace conference in Johannesburg this week, hoping to keep good relations with trading partner China but instead generating a storm of criticism.
Friday's peace conference was organized by South African soccer officials to highlight the first World Cup to be held in Africa, which South Africa will host in 2010.
But because the Dalai Lama isn't being allowed to attend, it is now being boycotted by fellow Nobel Peace prize winners retired Cape Town Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former president F.W. de Klerk as well as members of the Nobel Committee.
"It is disappointing that South Africa, which has received so much solidarity from the world, doesn't want to give that solidarity to others," Nobel Institute Director Geir Lundestad told the Associated Press in Oslo, alluding to the decades-long fight against apartheid.
Nobel laureates, Hollywood celebrities, and other dignitaries are coming to discuss issues ranging from combating racism to how sports can unite people and nations. But Thabo Masebe, spokesman for President Kgalema Motlanthe, said a high-profile visit by the Tibetan spiritual leader would have distracted from the conference's focus.
"South Africa would have been the source of negative publicity about China," he said yesterday. "We do value our relationship with China."
South Africa is China's largest trading partner on a continent in which China is heavily and increasingly involved.
Tamu Matose, a spokeswoman for Tutu, told the AP that Tutu would not attend "because of the Dalai Lama issue." Tutu was quoted Sunday as calling the barring "disgraceful."
"[South Africa] should admit anyone with a legitimate and peaceful interest and should not take political decisions on who should, and who should not, attend," de Klerk said yesterday, announcing he also would skip the conference.
South Africa decided last month to refuse to issue an official invitation, without which, Masebe said, the Dalai Lama cannot visit. Masebe said the spiritual leader had been welcomed twice previously in South Africa and would be welcome again in the future - but "not now, when the whole world is looking at South Africa."
Beijing, an ally when South Africa's now-governing African National Congress was a liberation movement, and Pretoria have diplomatic ties stretching back a decade and an economic relationship based on trade as well as aid.