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China's bidding: Should South Africa issue a visa to the Dalai Lama?

South Africa's delay in issuing a visa to the Dalai Lama – scheduled to attend the 80th birthday bash of fellow Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu – has created a controversy over China's growing influence.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / September 29, 2011

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama attends a session of meditation, at the Zenith in Toulouse, southwestern France, on Aug. 14.

Bob Edme/AP

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In the world of diplomacy, the question of whether to allow a Nobel-Prize-winning Buddhist monk to visit one’s country is generally not controversial.

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But for South Africa – which is carrying out a major state visit to China and has just signed a deal for $2.5 billion in Chinese investment in South Africa – the question of whether to allow the Dalai Lama into South Africa to participate in fellow Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday celebrations has become a matter of embarrassment. For critics of South Africa’s government, it's become a sign of South African subservience to China.

On Tuesday, South Africa’s spokesman on foreign affairs issues, Clayson Monyela, said that the South African high commission in New Delhi has begun processing the Tibetan Buddhist leader’s visa application after a lengthy delay. Mr. Monyela said that all outstanding documents required by the South African government had now been submitted.

Archbishop Tutu’s birthday bash is scheduled for early October.

China's $2.5 billion investment deal

The Dalai Lama’s visa application has stolen some of the attention from China’s $2.5 billion investment deal, signed this week by China’s Development Bank and visiting South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Mr. Motlanthe, who is on a state visit to Beijing, said the deal showed that China’s relationship with South Africa was deepening.

The difference between the present deal and those of the past, Mr. Motlanthe told a small news conference in Beijing, is that “instead of just exporting these minerals as raw materials, there will be ... value add to create jobs on both sides."

South Africa exports about $5.5 billion of minerals each year to China, and a $2.5 billion investment in mineral refining inside South Africa would be a welcome boost for a South African economy that is struggling with chronic 25 percent unemployment, particularly among its youth. This year, China edged out both the US and Britain to become South Africa's largest trading partner.

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