The South African government has admitted it decided to bar the Dalai Lama from attending a peace conference with Nobel peace laureates to avoid undermining relations with China.
A cabinet statement released late yesterday said that while South Africa had not acted on a specific demand from Beijing, it was not prepared to “jeopardise” ties nor allow itself to be used as a political platform in the run-up to the hosting of next year’s football World Cup.
“A choice was made in this particular case that our interests will be better served if we give priority to making sure that we don’t jeopardise our bilateral relations with China in this particular case,” government spokesman Themba Maseko said in the statement.
“The government position is that we do not want the sporting events in this country, particularly 2010 (World Cup) to be used as a platform to advance the various different causes around the world, because that diverts attention from the sporting events themselves,” he added.
The cabinet statement also slammed Health Minister Barbara Hogan who has called on the government to apologise for the decision, saying there would be consequences and it was “unfortunate that the minister chose to go to a public platform to attack a decision of government”.
The conference, which was to have taken place tomorrow, has been scrapped in the wake of the row.