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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.

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Chinese pressure

China has been known to exert pressure on its trading partners, including even the United States, to avoid official contact with the Dalai Lama, who Beijing sees as the leader of a separatist movement in Tibet, a region that China controls. Both US Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have ignored Beijing’s protestations and met with the Dalai Lama in the White House.

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President Bush’s insistence on meeting the Tibetan spiritual leader in the personal residence of the White House, in May 2001, prompted a scornful response from then Chinese Foreign Ministry representative Zhu Bangzao, who told reporters at the time, “the Dalai Lama is no ordinary religious figure. He’s a political exile engaged in separatist activities.”

While South Africa has indicated that it will now proceed with the Dalai Lama’s visa, the initial delays sparked anger from Mr. Tutu, who complained that the South African government appeared to be catering to the Chinese government, which he said is “viciously cruel to its own citizens.”

South Africa did deny a visa to the Dalai Lama once before, in the lead-up to the South African-hosted World Cup of 2010.

The prospect of another visa rejection caused a media storm in South Africa, with the Mail and Guardian’s online editor Chris Roper leading the sarcastic charge.

It's not as if we're rejecting ethics and morality entirely -- we can just adopt the ones of whichever country buys us at the highest price. Sure, there might be a few sacrifices if it's America, like having to give up polygamy and supporting Palestine. Or if it's China, we'll have to become a one-party state that's big on oppression of freedom of speech, that's run as a kleptocracy, and that treats its people as commodities in the great economy of retaining power.

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