The 'captive states' of Southern Africa and China: The PRC and Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland

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<ul><li><p>The 'Captive States' of Southern Africaand China: The PRC and Botswana,</p><p>Lesotho and Swaziland</p><p>IAN TAYLOR</p><p>INTRODUCTION</p><p>During the apartheid era, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (BLS) weredescribed as 'captive states' within southern Africa.1 This term was utilisedbecause of the three states' subordinate relationship with the regional giantof South Africa. This position was due to their land-locked geographicalposition; their almost total economic dependence upon Pretoria; and SouthAfrica's overpowering military muscle(and willingness to use it).2 For BLS,South Africa was truly the hegemon and thus the three countries hadessentially to tailor their foreign policies accordingly. Though BLS were notnecessarily totally acquiescent to South Africa, the environment in whichthey operated and the general unwillingness to antagonise Pretoria limitedBeijing's manoeuvrability in the three countries under review. As Beijing'sprimary aim in southern Africa was to prevent the development ofsuperpower hegemony in the region and at the same time posture itself as aconcerned member of the Third World, South Africa's overarching presenceas well as local policy shifts stymied to a large degree any Chinese attemptat developing deep and long-lasting linkages with BLS - with the possibleexception of Botswana.</p><p>BOTSWANA</p><p>Botswana became independent as a republic on 30 September 1966 after ademocratic pre-independence election which the moderate Seretse Khamawon. Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, the country atindependence was economically largely dependent upon cattle ranching, theexport of beef and remittances of wages sent back home by migrant workersin South Africa. This situation, however, changed after independence as</p><p>Ian Taylor, University of Stellenbosch</p><p>Journal of Commonwealth &amp; Comparative Politics, Vol.35, No.2 (July 1997), pp.75-95PUBLISHED BY FRANK CASS, LONDON</p></li><li><p>76 THE JOURNAL OF COMMONWEALTH &amp; COMPARATIVE POLITICS</p><p>discoveries of nickel, copper, coal and especially diamonds, and a generallygood rainfall, drove a remarkable increase in overall gross national product,allowing Botswana to achieve a growth rate of eight per cent and one of thehighest per capita incomes in Black Africa.3 Botswana, however, remaineddependent to a large extent on South African largesse, and this wasproblematic for Gaborone.4 As Seretse Khama put it at a banquet in Beijing,'our geographical position in the area is such that our survival as a nationdepends almost entirely on our neighbours whose policies are diametricallyantithetical to our [own]'.3 Botswana pursued a moderate foreign policyafter independence and for years attempted to keep out of the racial conflictin southern Africa.6 Botswana was politically stable, enjoying a functioningdemocracy - a rarity in Africa - whilst being proclaimed as the 'bestmanaged economy in Africa'.7</p><p>Initial Botswanan Exclusion of the PRC</p><p>However, Botswana was a victim of its geographical location and wasinevitably caught up in the southern African maelstrom - a 'hostage to highpolitics'.8 As a result; as the People's Republic of China's (PRC's) southernAfrican policy developed in the 1970s and the crisis in the region andsuperpower involvement deepened, Botswana offered increasingopportunities for the development of linkages between Gaborone andBeijing. In essence, China pursued a policy of offering an alternative tochoosing between 'Boer and bear'. That is, between accommodation withthe 'devil' of South Africa, and the 'demon' of the Soviet Union.9</p><p>Initially, however, Beijing found itself shut out of Gaborone by theRepublic of China on Taiwan (ROC). Although delegations from Botswanahad visited Beijing in 1965, 1966 and 1967, Botswana established relationswith Taipei and not Beijing on 30 December 1966. Surrounded by violentlyanti-Communist, White-ruled states on three sides - Rhodesia, South Africaand South West Africa (Namibia) - Gaborone simply could not afford to,and did not wish to, antagonise either Pretoria or Salisbury by engaging inlinks with Communist states at independence. A visit to Taipei by theBotswanan Vice President and Gaborone's commitment to 'the Republic ofChina's rightful position in the United Nations',10 only served to underlinethe PRC's exclusion from the country. Links between the ROC andBotswana were further strengthened by the visit to Gaborone in 1969, of theTaiwanese Vice Foreign Minister, Yang Hsi-K'un."</p><p>Rapprochement with the PRC</p><p>However, circumstances unrelated to Beijing's foreign policy effortsresulted in a gradual rapprochement with the PRC. This stemmed fromBotswana's position in the southern African region and the growing conflict</p></li><li><p>THE 'CAPTIVE STATES" OF SOUTHERN AFRICA AND CHINA 77</p><p>in Rhodesia. Despite only providing humanitarian assistance toZimbabwean refugees, growing armed incursions by Rhodesian forces intoBotswana in search of Zimbabwean nationalists and the deepening of thearmed conflict meant that Gaborone's security situation became precarious.As a result, Botswana aimed to lessen dependence on the minority-ruledcountries and sought political support from fellow majority-ruled states -particularly Zambia, Botswana's only Black-ruled neighbour.12 This wassymbolised by the construction of the 'BotsZam' road to by-pass transportlinks via Rhodesia. Botswana also aimed to de-link itself from the SouthAfrican Rand as a measure of autonomy vis-a-vis Pretoria. This it achievedin 1974."</p><p>This development led to a number of consequences for Botswana'sforeign policy regarding the Communist states. Zambia had already anestablished pattern of relations with a number of non-capitalist nations. Asa result, Botswana was drawn into a more accommodating posture towardsthe non-capitalist powers. This was initially symbolised by theestablishment of relations between Botswana and Yugoslavia in September1970.14 This, however, did not indicate a shift leftwards by Gaborone. Everpragmatic, Khama also established relations with Japan and WestGermany.15</p><p>Nevertheless, when the 'two Chinas' issue was debated in the UnitedNations General Assembly in October 1971, Botswana joined Zambia invoting for the admission of the PRC. The anomaly of a ROC-recognisingstate such as Botswana voting in favour of the PRC's seating indicated theprecarious situation Gaborone felt itself in at the time due to Rhodesianactivity - stimulating a desire by Botswana to acquire as many African andnon-African allies as possible. Botswana's policy regarding the 'twoChinas' question was confused, and reflected uncertainty towards an issueof little relevance to African politics. This was symbolised by Botswanavoting against Taipei and yet agreeing to a technical co-operation agreementin April 1972.'6 The PRC was quick to recognise an apparent turnaround inBotswana's attitude vis-a-vis Beijing, and sent a high-level telegram toSeretse Khama in September 1972, congratulating Botswana on its sixthanniversary of independence.17 In essence, the PRC was tentatively testingthe ground for reaction. Botswana was apparently amenable to PRCapproaches, and in 1975 established relations with Beijing.18 As a result,Taipei severed relations with Gaborone. Although this was a diplomaticcoup for Beijing, it was far more linked to Botswana's own political anddiplomatic position vis-a-vis the white-ruled states than to a re-orientationof Gaborone's ideological position or, indeed, Beijing's own efforts.19</p><p>Botswana pursued a policy of outreach to its Black African neighbours, andBeijing was essentially part of the baggage that came with this</p></li><li><p>78 THE JOURNAL OF COMMONWEALTH &amp; COMPARATIVE POLITICS</p><p>diversification. Gaborone's foreign policy was aimed at being independentand attempted to avoid superpower machinations in the region. As aconsequence, the PRC was especially keen to foster amicable relations withthe country.</p><p>Khama 's Visit to Beijing</p><p>In July 1976, the President of Botswana, Seretse Khama, visited the PRC.At an official banquet, Hua Guofeng congratulated Botswana on its policyof non-alignment and 'contributing to promoting the cause of unity of theThird World countries and peoples against imperialism and hegemonism'.20</p><p>Taking up the theme that the international situation was 'excellent', Huasaw the African countries (including Botswana) as resisting a whole pot-pourri of evils including 'imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, big-power hegemonism, White racism and Zionism'.21 Hua's linking ofhegemonism to the wider struggle against the minority regimes in southernAfrica is illuminating in that, according to Beijing, Moscow's prime aim inaiding the various liberation movements in the region was hegemonistic andaimed at gaining control of the strategically important Cape sea-route.22</p><p>Khama's response, however, was more circumscribed, and avoidedHua's anti-hegemonistic utterances. Whilst castigating the West for sellingnuclear reactors to Pretoria, Khama avoided referring to Moscow's role inthe region and thus side-stepped the Sino-Soviet rivalry that had bedevilledrelations with other southern African states.23 In Seretse Khama, the PRCwas dealing with a shrewd pragmatist who, by force of circumstance andunder the shadow of the South African hegemon, was compelled to balanceGaborone's foreign policy and moderate Botswana's policies. As a result,Khama would not voluntarily involve Botswana in the disputes betweenMoscow and Beijing. Unlike Kaunda, or perhaps Nyerere, Khama was amore calculated and cautious national leader. Beijing's relationship withBotswana under Khama was therefore necessarily more circumscribed andless prone to lofty ideological outbursts. Whilst Gaborone was unwilling tobe drawn into the anti-Soviet rhetoric of Beijing, its stand against SouthAfrican hegemonism and its independent policy regarding bothsuperpowers, made Botswana an attractive state for China to court.</p><p>Beijing-Gaborone Ties in the 1970s</p><p>The PRC was quick to capitalise on the visit to Beijing by Khama, and inSeptember 1976 sent a delegation headed by the Minister of Commerce,Fan Zi-yu, to attend Botswana's tenth anniversary celebrations.24 Inaddition, Beijing became prominent in defending Botswana againstincursions at the United Nations, for example, supporting the May 1977Security Council adoption of two resolutions in support of Botswana</p></li><li><p>THE 'CAPTIVE STATES' OF SOUTHERN AFRICA AND CHINA 79</p><p>against South African and Rhodesian encroachment. Beijing took theopportunity to introduce anti-Soviet rhetoric into the debate, criticising the'social-imperialists' for 'working hand in glove with the Vorster regime'.25</p><p>Anti-superpower feeling in Africa at the time was high - as the BotswananForeign Minister said, Africans 'opposed the Superpowers for turningAfrica into a place where to seek hegemony'.26 Quett Masire, the successorin 1980 to Khama as Botswana's President, was even more explicit when hetold Chinese reporters that 'the factors of instability [in Africa] are really thetwo big Superpowers because there is a new scramble for Africa, each onetrying to build its sphere of influence in Africa'.27 This statement was areplication of Beijing's own- posture and neatly complimented Beijing'sposition.</p><p>In essence, since the early 1970s Gaborone's foreign policy was toattempt to disengage itself steadily from the shackles of Pretoria, and oneavenue through which Botswana pursued this was to assert its Africanidentity through hostility to both superpowers and to identify itself with thenon-aligned states of the Third World.28 In many ways, Botswana'sindependent foreign policy was a precursor to that of Beijing's. Similar tothe PRC, and recognising its own vulnerability, Botswana attempted tomanipulate the international system in order to maximise its ownmanoeuvrability.29 The PRC was therefore a useful ally by which Gaboronecould strive for an assertion of its own international identity and,conversely, Botswana was a state at the centre of the regional crisis throughwhich Beijing could project its agenda vis-a-vis southern Africa andsuperpower expansionism. Gaborone-Beijing relations, then, were inessence compatible, and the concern with which the PRC regarded itsrelations with Botswana was underscored in 1986 by the visit of no less thanVice-Premier Li Peng to Gaborone,30 reciprocated by a visit to China by theBotswanan Foreign Minister in 1988.31 Whilst Sino-Botswanan tiesremained quiet in the early 1980s, as a permanent member of the UnitedNations Security Council the PRC was particularly useful to Botswana fromthe mid-1980s onwards as South Africa pursued an aggressive militarycourse against its neighbours.32 For example, Beijing strongly condemnedSouth Africa's attack on Gaborone in March 1988.33</p><p>Post-Tiananmen Relations</p><p>Beijing's rhetorical and practical commitments to southern Africa resultedin a groundswell of support for the PRC at the time of the TiananmenSquare massacre. Botswana's reaction was markedly similar to othersouthern African states and was evident during the Chinese ForeignMinister's visit to six southern African countries in July 1989. The 4 June'incident' re-focused Beijing's concentration on the Third World as a</p></li><li><p>80 THE JOURNAL OF COMMONWEALTH &amp; COMPARATIVE POLITICS</p><p>support constituency to withstand critical international opinion andpropelled Beijing to seek out and reaffirm its linkages in Africa. As QianQichen said, 'China will ... strengthen and enhance its solidarity and co-operation with African ... countries and actively expand political,economic, trade, cultural, scientific and technological exchanges withthem'.34 For its part, Botswana hoped that China 'could remove the difficultelements as soon as possible'.35 Tiananmen Square actually served tostrengthen Sino-Botswana ties, as evidenced when Botswana opened itsfirst embassy in Asia in Beijing in 1991.36</p><p>Economic Linkages</p><p>Like PRC policy elsewhere, after the beginning of the modernisationprogramme launched in 1978 under Deng Xiaoping, Beijing rigorouslyattempted to develop trade linkages with Botswana.37 This was firstsignalled by the visit of Quett Masire to Beijing in June 1980 to 'exchangeexperience in economic construction'.38 As one of Africa's few economicsuccess stories, Gaborone was of particular importance to Beijing as theBotswanan model of development may have been instructive for the PRC'sown economic construction. As it was, the Vice-Premier of the PRC StateCouncil, Ji Penfei, was eager to inform the Botswana delegation of thechanges in the PRC's domestic situation since the visit of Khama in 1976,and the 'principles and policies for China's modernisation programme'.39</p><p>This was later followed up in December 1980, when a Botswanandelegation arrived to discuss developing agricultural and economicconstruction between Gaborone and Beijing.40 It is evident that Beijing didindeed see Botswana as an 'exemplary model in the development ofnational economy'.41 In a laudatory article describing the economicachievements made in Botswana, Beijing made it clear that...</p></li></ul>


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