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Dalai Lama's visa request leaves S.Africa in a bind
by Staff Writers
Cape Town (AFP) Sept 30, 2011

Putin to visit China in October
Beijing (AFP) Sept 30, 2011 - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will visit China in October for meetings with his counterpart Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao, Beijing said Friday.

Putin will also meet other senior Chinese leaders during the October 11-12 visit, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told journalists.

The two nations aim to expand cooperation in all areas including close coordination on international issues as two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, he added.

China became Russia's top trading partner for the first time last year after trade between the two countries grew by 34.5 percent to more than $59 billion.

In a visit to Moscow by President Hu in June the two sides said they would seek to increase trade to $100 billion by 2015 and to $200 billion by 2020.

The Dalai Lama's request for a visa to attend Desmond Tutu's 80th birthday has left South Africa to decide whether to insult the beloved anti-apartheid hero or alienate its top trading partner.

One week before Tutu's October 7 birthday, the government has refused to say if the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader can visit, after it denied him a visa in 2009 -- and openly admitted its fears of angering Beijing.

"The desire of Pretoria not to antagonise China is pretty consistent," said Matthew McDonald of the Centre for Chinese Studies.

"They are one of our most important economic partners, and other countries in Europe and Africa have faced economic consequences if seen to be interfering in their domestic agenda."

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.

Since barring the Dalai Lama two years ago, South Africa has inked a major trade pact with the Asian giant and joined the emerging economies BRICS group that also includes Brazil, Russia and India.

"It is surprising that the South African government still feels that there is something to lose from souring our Chinese relations. One would have thought that the relationship has become more equal," said McDonald.

"The fact is that all this indecision makes us look bad -- and that need not be the case if the issue were handled a little less clumsily by officials in Pretoria."

The controversy over Beijing's influence comes as Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe on Friday wrapped up a four-day visit to China, where he cinched investment and trade deals and met President Hu Jintao.

The Chinese foreign ministry would not be drawn on the visa application but praised South Africa for its support on Tibet, which the Dalai Lama fled in 1959.

"China highly appreciates South Africa's valuable support to China on the issues of Taiwan and Tibet and related issues," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told journalists.

South Africa has denied being pressured by China but also dodged questions on the visa, even though Tutu has sharply criticised the government, which he said seemed to "want to kowtow to a hugely repressive regime".

Tutu has invited the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, to deliver an inaugural peace lecture on October 8.

University of Pretoria political lecturer Roland Henwood says that defying the world's second-biggest economy is unlikely to end relations.

"The bottom line is, what will China do if South Africa allows the Dalai Lama in?" he said.

"Will they sever ties, will they stop investing? I don't think so. The Chinese are way too pragmatic to do that. Maybe the South African government is too sensitive and allowed itself to be put in a position where they shouldn't be."

President Jacob Zuma's government plays a key role in Africa's international presence with a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

But it has been criticised for flip-flopping on issues and for stepping away from its human rights principles that led to the fall of apartheid under Nelson Mandela, who welcomed the Dalai Lama to South Africa during his presidency.

"Principle is important in informing foreign policy, but to the same extent governments must be open to the realities and have a pragmatic approach to some issues," said Henwood.

"This is clearly an issue where pragmatism and principle must be aligned and must be solved," he said. "There are going to be similar issues in the future that, if not dealt with properly, will show a lack of an even-handed approach or lack of a principled approach."

Zuma's government had to act decisively, he said.

"This is something where leadership is required, someone must take a decision, explain the decision and live with the consequences."

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Birthday gift is 'no Dalai Lama', says disappointed Tutu
Cape Town (AFP) Sept 30, 2011 - Desmond Tutu is disappointed at South Africa's reluctance to grant the Dalai Lama a visa for his 80th birthday and says he expects his birthday gift will be "no Dalai Lama", a report said Friday.

The retired archbishop had invited his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate and close friend to give an inaugural peace lecture on October 8 as part of a three-day programme to celebrate his birthday.

But he said he believed South Africa was holding off an announcement to avoid negative criticism.

"I think my birthday gift is going to be: no Dalai Lama," Tutu told the weekly Mail&Guardian.

"It's unlikely that they'll give him a visa. If they were going to, they would have done so already. I think they're going to hold on so there's little time for people to get nasty against the government. It's sad."

Pretoria has refused to say if it will allow or block the Dalai Lama after causing an outcry when it barred his entry two years ago over fears of angering China who is the country's biggest national trade partner.

"We're still hoping against hope that he'll be here," Tutu told the newspaper.

"He draws so many people and, I can tell you, I'm not jealous," he then quipped with his trademark sense of humour and laugh.

After campaigning against apartheid's white minority leaders, Tutu is seen as the country's moral compass and has remained a frequent critic of the government even after the fall of apartheid rule.

"I am not their blue-eyed boy," he said when asked if he could use his influence to try and win over authorities.

Events to mark his birthday start on Thursday with the launch of a new biography, followed by a public church service the next day. The Dalai Lama lecture had been due to wrap up events.

Human Rights Watch urged South Africa to grant the visa, saying that its reluctance seemed to be based on nothing other than fear of upsetting China.

"For the government to block a leader who supported South Africa's struggles is not only to deny its own history, but it raises questions about whether the government looks to Pretoria, or to Beijing, for some of its domestic policy decisions," said Daniel Bekele, HRW Africa director.

"There are few better ways to honor Archbishop Tutu, and that for which he and South Africa stand, than by acting on principle rather than perceived political expediency," said Bekele.

Foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela on Friday described Tutu as someone "we respect profoundly" but said reactions to a decison that had not been made were "slightly problematic".

"People must not preempt the process and respond to a decision which has yet to be made," he told independent television news eNEWS.

"There is no decision as yet from where we are sitting given that this is an application that we can only say was a concrete application on the 20th of September," he said, adding that it was being processed.

The offices of Tutu and the Dalai Lama have denied that the Tibetan had not met visa requirements and slammed the state's response as "profoundly disrespectful."

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe on Friday wrapped up a "successful" official trip to China with a visit to President Hu Jintao, his office said in a statement with no mention of the visa controversy.

Trade and investment deals were sealed, and China also "undertook to facilitate more imports from South Africa, especially high value added products", it said.

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