We are chinas, says Phosa

2011-10-08 17:10

‘No country has a right to tell us who our friends should be’

The Chinese government has in the past called the ANC to “explain” matters relating to Chinese dissidents, ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa confirmed in an exclusive interview with City Press.

Although he claimed that the Chinese did not exert direct pressure about the Dalai Lama’s cancelled visit this week, the message from the previous time was loud and clear.

In a move that led to South Africa bowing to Chinese pressure, government did not send a high-ranking official to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony last year where a Chinese dissident was honoured.

Phosa said that a Chinese embassy official phoned him to “explain why Chinese human rights activist and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo was in jail”.

Liu is a Chinese dissident who was jailed by the government for his anti-China activities. He is still imprisoned in Beijing.

City Press has established that a decision was taken that no senior official would therefore be allowed to attend the ceremony in Oslo, Norway, in December last year where Liu was to receive his prize.

But Phosa denied that South Africa had snubbed the prize ceremony.

“You had them explaining why he’s in jail. The West was not explaining why the man was in jail. That’s the only time I remember someone calling from the embassy explaining,” he said.

“We agreed to send a representative. We didn’t send a minister, but there were people there. We can’t co-opt the West’s issues with China. Our policy is very clear. We act like any state in the interest of our country with regard to China or any other country,” Phosa said.

A Norwegian government official said the Chinese government lobbied embassies to boycott last year’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

The South African ambassador in Norway, Beryl Sisulu, the sister of defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, was at the time in South Africa for a medical procedure.

A spokesperson at the Oslo embassy would only say Sisulu was in South Africa at the time and therefore the charge d’affaires, Marisa van der Westhuizen, attended.

But the Norwegians viewed it as a lucky escape by South Africa.

“It was lucky that she (Sisulu) was in South Africa at the time. What I know for sure is they found it difficult for South Africa not to attend the Nobel ceremony. We would’ve been upset if they didn’t go,” the Norwegian official said.

Because of South Africa’s past, there are “big expectations” of the country, according to the official, who further said: “We expect more from South Africa in terms of principles and human rights.”

Other countries deal with the Dalai Lama issue by not allowing the Tibetan leader to meet with government officials, therefore not officialising the visit.

One European diplomat commented: “The Chinese are not doing themselves a favour by demanding the Dalai Lama should not be allowed in certain countries.

“They behave like masters, not partners. South Africa will now be frowned upon, we will see South Africa as on the payroll of the Chinese.”
Phosa, however, said South Africa will not involve itself with Chinese internal politics.

“What are we going to say if the Chinese say Mpumalanga is oppressed? We’ll tell China to go to hell,” he said.

“There is nothing we cannot discuss with China, but we don’t go around co-opting what is America’s problem with China into our kraal.

“We don’t think any country has got a right to tell us who our friends should be. Because if we do that, we will have no policy sustainability,” said Phosa.

He said the emergence of China served as a counter-weight to the US in global politics, citing China’s decision to veto a resolution on Syria at the UN’s Security Council this week.

“We are not little babies needing protection from China. Obviously we need to change and tilt the scale so that we don’t only buy airtime from China, we get involved in strategic areas of their economy.

“And therefore we have been encouraging (major South African business such as SABMiller and Naspers). We are encouraging those incursions into areas of South African economic power into Chinese markets. The ANC supports those incursions.

“Though they are making a small dent, at least we are not sitting back and only buying airtime and toys.

“We should not exchange toys for chrome. It must be value for value.”


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