Botswana eyeing Chinese foreign investment: ambassador

By Xing Xiaojing Source:Global Times Published: 2019/5/12 17:58:39

Botswana's Ambassador to China Mothusi Palai holds a copy of the Global Times at the Embassy of Botswana in Beijing on February 20. Photo: Xing Xiaojing/GT

Editor's Note:
Botswana has regarded the pursuit of economic interest as its top priority in recent years. Chinese enterprises are undoubtedly playing an important role to help the southern African country achieve this goal. Latest data shows that the bilateral trade volume between China and Botswana in 2017 reached $267 million. However, the "Diamond Kingdom" is obviously not satisfied with this figure and wants to expand trade. 

Global Times reporter Xing Xiaojing (GT) talked to Botswana's Ambassador to China Mothusi Palai (Palai) on economic cooperation, potential investment opportunities, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and more. 

GT: What is your top priority as the Botswana Ambassador to China? 

I have worked in the UN Office on behalf of Botswana for six years and then became the Botswana Ambassador to China in 2017. Botswana's primary interest is economic, therefore my priority is to see whether I could persuade Chinese companies to invest in Botswana. If I can make it happen, it will be a great achievement. 

Unfortunately, I have not succeeded in doing this. Everyone wants Chinese investment so that we have to compete with almost 150 other countries, because they also want to persuade Chinese companies to do the similar thing in their own countries. Chinese businessmen whom I have been talking to are always comparing and considering, so the situation is quite stiff. During my tenure, I hope I can bring back at least one investment from China. If everything goes well, maybe I can bring back 5 to 10 Chinese companies to Botswana. 

Although it is difficult, I have to say that there are a lot of positive signs. Our new President Mokgweetsi Masisi paid a visit to China last year, which helped improve bilateral relations between our two countries. And we managed to invite a team of Chinese investors to Botswana who met businessmen in the country. 

One thing we need to know is that a successful investment is not an event but a whole process, so talks must take place. Generally, I feel optimistic about economic cooperation although it takes time.

GT: What sectors do the two countries have potential for cooperation in the future? 

Palai: First of all, it's the tourism sector. We have to admit that countries like Kenya and South Africa are still the first choice for Chinese tourists if they travel to Africa. We are a small country so it is difficult for us to take care of a huge number of visitors.

But Botswana has potential and I think we have opportunity to grow, especially with Chinese tourists. Getting a visa was difficult, but we started the landing visa policy (visa on arrival) last year to resolve this problem. However, Chinese tourists have limited knowledge about Botswana and we are working hard to tell them more about us. Besides, there is no direct flight from China to Botswana, hopefully we can work with some major airlines to provide one. 

Secondly, I have to mention the agriculture sector, especially beef export. I know that the two governments are working on this issue. We must meet the safety standards of China. And I believe it will open up a huge market. In addition, China is a big consumer, and we can cooperate in the diamond and IT industries.

GT: How could Botswana cooperate with China in the high tech area?

Palai: The gap between China and Botswana in this area is very big. I think there are mainly two methods to cooperate. One of the most direct ways is the actual investment from China in Botswana. Another way is to build technological institutions in Botswana. I find that some Chinese universities are the centers of innovation, and they help promote small business and put ideas into reality. By doing so, the universities and companies can work together as a whole business package. 

GT: You have been working in Beijing for almost two years. What did you learn from China?

Palai: I still remember the first day I arrived in Beijing. It was my first visit to the country. I was impressed by the road network, the buildings and the developed infrastructure. The population of Botswana is about 23 million, almost the same as Beijing, but it was impossible to believe that everything runs so well in Beijing. From then, I decided to learn from China and help build my own country. 

Over the past two years, I have been to Henan, Shandong, Shanxi, Hainan provinces. With deepening understanding of China, I have been immensely touched by China's story, especially the story of development. The Chinese government has decided to win the fight against poverty in 2020 and they achieved the goal of helping 13.86 million rural people get rid of poverty in 2018. China has taught me the execution of policy. It is not only enough to make plans, but ensure they are executed. 

GT: What do locals think about Chinese people or Chinese enterprises?

Palai: Chinese don't have a long history of doing business in Botswana but they do build a good reputation. In the last 10 to 15 years, the biggest sector in which we have had Chinese business in Botswana was construction because we went through a major construction boom. Chinese helped build the airports, roads, buildings, schools, hospitals and so on. All the infrastructure facilities benefit the local people, but they can't represent China. 

Over the last 40 years, China has developed rapidly and become the second largest economy in the world. The successful stories of China attract Botswana's attention and they want to learn more about China. In other words, China's success impressed people. 

I'm so happy to see that there are many students studying and businessmen working here. I think they will get a much wider perspective on China and Chinese people. For me, I would be never exposed to China if I were in Botswana. So we encourage our people to come to China and explore more on their own. 

GT: How does Botswana get involved with the Belt and Road Initiative?

Palai: The main platform for Botswana is the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a new area for us, but it's something that we are working toward. In fact, I think we should get involved with the BRI, because we see its great potential and our government takes the project positively. I believe it is good for both Botswana and Africa.
Newspaper headline: Investing in ties


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