JOHANNESBURG (AFP) ― The Dalai Lama has canceled a trip to South Africa for a summit of Nobel peace laureates, an aide said Thursday, reporting that Pretoria had denied him a visa in a bid to avoid angering China.
The government “conveyed by phone to me they will not be able to grant the visa for the reason that it would disturb relations between China and South Africa,” Nangsa Choedon said.
The apparent refusal for Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, which would be the third in five years, could provoke a boycott of the 14th annual peace summit, said a spokesman for South African laureate and former archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“I have heard that if the Dalai Lama is not allowed into the country, other invited guests have said they will not come,” Roger Friedman said.
South Africa’s Foreign Ministry said that it had received written confirmation from the Dalai Lama‘s office in India “indicating that His Holiness has cancelled his planned visit to South Africa.”
Earlier Thursday, the government said it was still considering his visa application.
Two years ago, the country’s top court found that the government had acted unlawfully by dragging its heels on a visa application by the Tibetan until it was too late.
China, which accuses the Dalai Lama of covertly campaigning for Tibet’s independence, regularly uses its economic and political clout to put pressure on governments around the world to limit contact with him.
China is South Africa’s biggest single trading partner, with two-way trade worth $21 billion in 2012.
The Nobel summit in Cape Town on Oct. 13-15 is backed by foundations representing four South African peace laureates -- Tutu, Nelson Mandela, FW de Klerk and Albert Luthuli.
Along with the surviving South Africans -- Tutu and de Klerk -- the organizers say 13 individuals and eight organizations had confirmed that they would attend the summit, including former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev.
Previous summits have been held in cities including Rome, Paris, Chicago and Warsaw.
Each prior rejection of the Dalai Lama‘s visa request has been met with public outcry by South Africans who see it as a betrayal of the commitment to human rights embraced by their government since the end of apartheid 20 years ago.
But a spokesman for de Klerk, the South African former president who won the Nobel Prize alongside liberation icon Nelson Mandela, said he did not think a boycott of the summit would be the right response.
“I think the message has gone out that boycotting the summit would be the very worst way of protesting,” Dave Steward, executive director of the FW de Klerk Foundation, said.
“The best way would be to come to the summit and celebrate the 20th anniversary of our democracy and then make any views they want to make known at the summit.”
Before news broke that the Dalai Lama had cancelled his trip, Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille said she hoped the government would grant him a visa “in order to spare South Africa the international humiliation of failing to do so.”
The Dalai Lama was last barred from entry in 2011, when he was invited to give a lecture as part of celebrations for anti-apartheid activist Tutu’s 80th birthday.
At the time, Tutu described the African National Congress government of President Jacob Zuma as being “worse than the apartheid government.”
The Dalai Lama was also denied a visa in 2009, but had visited three times before that and was personally welcomed by former president Mandela.