The Dalai Lama said he had been "overjoyed" at the prospect of meeting "old friends" like Nelson Mandela
NEW DELHI — Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Tuesday brushed off South Africa's refusal to grant him a visa, saying it was the result of Chinese pressure that had backfired on Beijing.
The 73-year-old was to visit the African nation last week after being invited to attend a peace conference of Nobel laureates.
Speaking to reporters in New Delhi on the 50th anniversary of his arrival in India, the Dalai Lama said he had been "overjoyed" at the prospect of meeting "old friends" like former South African president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
But when his office sought a visa from the South African High Commission in New Delhi, the request was refused.
"Then I said, it doesn't matter. I always work on the principle I don't want to create any embarrassment or inconvenience," he said.
The South African government admitted its decision was taken to avoid undermining relations with China, which reacts angrily to any country hosting the Dalai Lama.
The Tibetan leader argued that the ensuing outcry -- which eventually resulted in the entire peace conference being cancelled -- had benefitted the Tibetan cause by spotlighting China's intransigence.
"Because of the Chinese refusal, there was much publicity. So, ultimately I have to thank the Chinese," he said.
China has been stepping up a global offensive to isolate the Dalai Lama, who fled to India 50 years ago as Beijing crushed an abortive uprising in Tibet.
Beijing's economic clout has seen it increasing its presence in Africa with billions in aid and investment.
The peace conference was scrapped after fellow Nobel laureates, Tutu and former South African president FW de Klerk, pulled out in protest at the government decision.
The move has led to mounting criticism of South Africa, whose ruling African National Congress (ANC) received massive global support during the fight against white-minority apartheid rule.