China praises SA for 'correct position' on Dalai Lama

China says it highly appreciates the respect given on the country's “sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama speaks during a press conference in Frankfurt/Main, western Germany on 14 May 2014. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - China has thanked and praised South Africa for apparently denying a visa to the Dalai Lama.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation yesterday confirmed it received a visa application from the spiritual leader's office in India.

But it later emerged the Nobel Peace Prize cancelled his trip.

The Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India and is at loggerheads with China over Tibet, had been hoping to join a Nobel peace conference in Cape Town next month but withdrew his visa application after being told it would be unsuccessful.

The ministry praised South Africa for its correct position and indicated it highly appreciates the respect given on the country's "sovereignty and territorial integrity".

Government has refused to be drawn on China's response to the visa debacle facing the Dalai Lama.

Speaking from China, International Relations spokesperson Clayson Monyela denied rejecting the visa, saying the department was forced to halt the process when the spiritual leader cancelled his visit.

Previous delays in dealing with the Dalai Lama's visa requests by the African National Congress government have angered South Africans who see it as a betrayal of the country's commitment to human rights since apartheid ended 20 years ago.

At the same time, the City of Cape Town wants the department to explain the latest visa controversy surrounding the Dalai Lama's visit.

China brands the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule of Tibet, a separatist. The Dalai Lama says he is seeking more autonomy for his Himalayan homeland.

A South African court ruled two years ago that officials had "unreasonably delayed" a decision on granting the Dalai Lama a visa in 2011, largely out of fear of angering China, now a major African and South African trading partner and investor.

Because of the delay, the Dalai Lama was unable to attend the 80th birthday of his friend and fellow Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town in October 2011. The previous visa denial, in 2009, was also for a peace conference.

Prior to the Dalai Lama cancelling his trip, Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille, who is organising next month's event, had urged authorities to approve the visa application in an effort to spare the country international embarrassment.

"We remain hopeful that the national government will grant the visa in order to spare South Africa the international humiliation of failing to do so."