Interview with Botswana Ambassador to China
   2014-03-17 16:20:27    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Liu Yuanhui

Sasara George, Botswana Ambassador to China, received an interview with CRI reporter in Beijing on March 10, 2014. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com]

Q: What major issues are you following during the annual two sessions, and why?

A: We attended the opening, which was conducted by the Chairperson, and then most importantly, we attended the speech delivered by the premier. We are very much interested in the premier's speech because it raised the topic of the program for the government and it is there that we can discern what China wants to do with other countries, particularly with Africa, and areas that relate to Botswana.

What we took from the speech of the premier: first of all, we are learning lessons from China, (because for the People's Republic of China, this was their own program) and from what they are doing, firstly, about their own reforms which were announced and how they are going to implement them, and we are seeing if there is any way for a country like Botswana to peak through learning from the Chinese experience.

In terms of dealing with governments, there are lots of areas that the premier and even the chairperson of the CPPCC have talked about, such as when he talked about fighting corruption. As you know corruption all over the world, is an endemic, which is poisoning every society and we need, in order to conserve all the resources that we have, to work closely to see how we can combat corruption. Sometimes it goes beyond the borders, so if China is fighting it here, it will help us to fight it in Botswana, too.

Secondly, an exciting area is housing, how China is going to deal with housing. The market issues in Botswana may not be the same as in China, because they are talking about a 1.3 billion population, whereas in Botswana we are only talking about 2 million plus. But we do have the problem of ensuring the provision of housing, especially to the lower echelons of society. So we are very interested in how China is going to deal with the provision of housing to these lowest members of society, through this so-called subsidized housing, so that everyone can have housing.

The other area that much impressed me is education. I think that my government can learn a lot from China in the area of education because China wants to beef up its education. It wants to concentrate on more technical education, skills that are relevant for employment to have graduates be ready so that upon leaving education, they can go on their own; they are ready to fly and they are ready to be employed. I think this is something that Botswana can learn from; we too are complaining of unemployment, especially among our graduates, and I am happy that China is seeing that it can absorb the majority of its graduates when they leave university. This is something that we can learn from the Chinese.

Another impressive one was the safety nets: how do you deal with people who are poor? China has very developed programs and projects to deal with poverty alleviation. I think that it is very impressive that China has tackled poverty in a very remarkable way, and I think that many countries can learn from the way in which China has done this, and I think that my country has a lot to learn.

Q: What about the environmental issue?

A: Well, I'm glad that through sitting in on the two meetings for the first time, I've heard loudly and clearly, the Chinese recognizing and talking openly as a government about the problem of pollution in China and the way they are going to tackle it. And already, we are told that almost 50,000 polluting firms are going to be closed, and others are going to be moved out of the city and taken off the streets. And this is very ambitious, because the environment knows no borders. Even for smaller countries like us, we have problems with the environment and pollution. We need to protect the environment for the prosperity of the new ones that are coming.

So I think that what China is doing in this field has shown the right way for many of us and also to acknowledge when you have a problem, and they have openly acknowledged it. I know that before, they used to get very sensitive when the American Embassy published their readings, but these days they acknowledge, and talk about them openly and publish their own government readings in addition to the American Embassy's readings. This is very good because when you have a problem, and you don't acknowledge it, you cannot resolve it. So I think that this is a good approach and it's a lesson to us. As a developing country, we should peer review from each other and learn from each other. I think that what China is doing in this area can be learnt even in our area. Botswana has a very fragile environment; we need to treat the environment with consideration because we have a desert, we don't have rain and we have to preserve. In all of these aspects, we have to learn how China has developed and what it has done; I think that in the area of protection of the environment and fighting pollution, it has set a good example.

Q: Currently, not many Chinese people know of Botswana, but it's a beautiful country. What efforts do you want to make in order to make it possible and easier for Chinese tourists to go to Botswana?

A: First of all, I would like Botswana to be well-known to the Chinese, because China has a very large, growing middle-class people. And you know when people have enough money, they start to travel, and I would like Botswana to benefit from this growing and new class of travelers. As much as possible, I would like to see ourselves here (in China); I invited our tourist board over last year and they participated in some of the fairs in China. I do encourage our people to travel here to come and publicize ourselves in China, and I'm glad that there are people who want to work with us, like the Botswana-China People's Friendship Association. Through these methods of taking Chinese people to Botswana to visit, they will come and tell us stories and bring you here to Botswana to visit and they will go back and tell you stories, but sometimes you know the story of tourism is easier said than done. Because sometimes people have to believe their security is guaranteed. So it is important to see a few Chinese people, especially those in the higher echelons, travel to Botswana, and when they come back, they can tell stories. We would like to see the Chinese media visit too because they can help us, by writing articulately about Botswana; but in tourism, all you can do is make yourself known .and the decision to go is up to individuals.

Q: What about the visa issue?

A: I think we have worked very well on this issue. I know that when I first came here two or three years ago we had a lot of problems and the visa took a longer time. But I think that over time, we no longer have a lot of problems of visas being delayed; I think they are being expedited, and I think that will continue while I am here. I will continue to work hard to make sure our visa system becomes even more flexible, to accommodate as many would-be travelers to Botswana as soon as possible. And when we gain an increased number of tourists to Botswana, for me, it makes my work easier, even in terms of proposing for my government to issue to those people a tourist visa that can be used fast or be valid on-the-spot as soon as they arrive, and these are the methods that I am working on to make sure that we can tap into this market. And I'm hopeful that before my tour ends we may have a visa regime between China and Botswana which will be more accommodating to all our wishes.

Q: In what fields have China and Botswana experienced smooth development with regards to cooperation?

A: Let me say, I think the field of health has been very exceptional in that it is one area in which China has really helped Botswana smoothly with no problems. They can tick off education, they have done it. We have had a few hiccups on the issues of business; when people do transactions with Botswana as businesspeople, there are bound to be some small problems. Sometimes they get magnified by people when they talk about them because in business, people start to get jealous of each other, and sometimes things go beyond where they are supposed to, but on the whole, I would say that we have had a very good and smooth partnership with China.

Q: What areas of cooperation would you like to explore further and strengthen?

A: Well, first of all, China is a very big and growing economy. It is the manufacturing industry of the world, you have a lot of experience in a lot of things; you deal with all new technologies. Botswana is striving to diversify its economy away from diamonds or even mining, or at least within mining, or within the diamonds industry itself. So, we are looking at all of the fields in which China can help us with its vast experiences and appetite for some of the natural resources we have in Botswana, and to help us to diversify our economy and I think that if we work well with China in the extraction of minerals and manufacturing them, China can help us.

Who would have thought that in 1990, when I first came here, I would see a fast train like these modern trains we have, which take 30 minutes to reach Tianjin; when I first came here there was nothing; when I was here in 1990, Beijing had no skyscrapers; now the Beijing that I see is not the Beijing I saw in 1990. So I think that there is so much that we can do together, whether it is property development, mining, industries, education; so we are hungry for growth in all the fields like China was when it developed itself; I think that if I asked the same question to the Chinese in 1990, and say, "which fields you want to strengthen?", you will say everything. So we want to diversify our economy, we want to be everywhere, and we want everything from China to help us to be where China is now.

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