According to news reports that came in last week, the Dalai Lama was denied a visa from the South Africa government to attend a peace conference in Johannesburg that would have been attended by five other Nobel Peace prize winners.
Officials believed that banning the Dalai Lama would keep the focus of the conference on the upcoming 2010 World Cup Soccer Tournament and away from messy politics. They probably did not anticipate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former president F. W. de Klerk dropping out of the conference in protest of the Dalai Lama’s dismissal.
Even members of the South African government, such as Health Minister Barbara Hogan, is angered by the decision and believes the South African government owes an apology to all its citizens.
Why would a country that freed itself from an apartheid government deny entry to a spiritual leader who speaks on behalf of 5.4 million Tibetans being oppressed by the Chinese government?
Herein lies the double standard of foreign policy. Though South Africa may have a history of championing human rights and democracy, this nation also depends heavily on Chinese markets for buying its rich natural resources.
Perhaps no person can sum it up better than Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who himself has been jailed and had his passport revoked from his own government for his opposition to apartheid in the 1980’s. He called the government’s decision “disgraceful” for “shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure.”
The peace conference has been completely cancelled by the resulting outcry.
In a graceful response that underscores his peaceful nature, the Dalai Lama responded that he does not want to “cause any embarrassment or inconvenience,” and that ironically, the visa refusal has helped further publicize the Tibetan cause.