China Botswana relations: The ice melts?


President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s ascendance to the presidency is already showing signs of heralding a new dawn for Botswana’s relationship with  China, after tensions reached fever pitch in 2017.

The China Botswana Business Forum which was jointly hosted by China Council for the Promotion of Investment and Trade and Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) showed signs of thawing relations between Botswana and the second largest economy in the world, China.

The two countries engaged in a full out cold war of words between former President Ian Khama and China over differing sentiments over a proposed visit by Tibetan spiritualist, the Dalai Lama, to Botswana.

The Dalai Lama issue exacerbated an already acrimonious relationship with arbitrary deportations of Chinese nationals and repudiations of work and residence permits.

“Botswana government usually sends delegates to China to woo our investors to come here but they are afraid because in Botswana one can be deported any time without any reasons,” deputy Head of Chinese Mission, Li Nan, told journalists in 2015.

Yesterday, China’s Ambassador to Botswana Dr Zhao Yanbo, told a Chinese delegation of business people that Botswana is open for business, also endorsing the country as the best destination for investment on the continent. He also invited Botswana business people to go to China to run businesses there.

“This will be the first visit by a Botswana president to Botswana in more than a decade,” revealed Yanbo.

“It is my duty to inform you of the business environment here which has been keeping improving over the past few months; Botswana is a right place to do business,” he said, referring to proposed new immigration regime Masisi has proposed at his inaugural meeting with High Level Consultative Council (HLCC). The President informed the business community of plans to make adjustments in a number of areas to improve ease of doing business in the country, including re-orientation of immigration and business policies to create a conducive business environment to attract and keep investors of value in Botswana.

Chinese ambassador revealed that President Masisi will lead a delegation to China to attend the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (COCAF) 2018 which will be held in September. Newly appointed Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr Unity Dow, has also recently embarked on a trip to China.

COCAF is a set of ministerial conferences held every three years, with the first one held in October, 2000 in Beijing. The latest was held in 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The 2018 summit will take place in Beijing in early September 2018, has been upgraded to a full Summit.

Yanbo affirmed that: “China will not stop the pace of its reform and opening up. With further reform, and opening up China is expected to import $24 trillion P248 trillion of goods and invest $2 trillion overseas in the next 15 years.”

He also revealed that about 700 million Chinese people will go abroad for tourism. “These mean great opportunity to the world and Botswana as well; I do not see why Botswana should not seize the opportunity,” he said.