These days, social media is circumventing politicians and bureaucracies in ways they could have never have imagined. Thanks to the Internet, the Dalai Lama joined Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the Archbishop’s 80th birthday – via Google+. No visa, plane tickets or government intervention required.
The Dalai Lama, who originally planned to attend the event in South Africa, hoped that he would be granted a visa into the country weeks ago. In company with a vast array of notable figures, he was also scheduled to deliver an address to the audience. However, a large debacle with the South African government led to several snags – complicated by its growing economic ties with China – and the Dalai Lama was forced to cancel his trip after a visa failed to materialize. The two spiritual figures then turned to the power of Google.
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In the South African address, in which the two friends were united, the Dalai Lama criticized China openly. The Dalai Lama remarked, “Some Chinese officials describe me as a demon so naturally some fear… the demon.” South Africa, which views China as a key trading partner, has also denied the Dalai Lama a visa once before in 2009. The African nation has come under strong criticism for being influenced thanks to its relationship with Beijing. Unsurprisingly, the video was not broadcast on South African state media.
During the debacle, South Africa fired back, denying that they had refused the Dalai Lama a visa and was processing his application. “[His application] was being considered when he decided to cancel,” spokesman Clayson Monyela said. The government also contested that the Dalai Lama’s application had been incomplete and that it wasn’t until September 20 that they received the Tibetan leader’s passport. Monyela went on to say that it can take up to two months to issue a visa, though the South African consulate states that the usual processing time is five days for a normal tourist visa. The Dalai Lama was originally scheduled to address a live audience on October 6.
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Archbishop Tutu was critical of his government, saying, “Clearly, whether they say so or not, they [are] quite determined that they are not going to do anything that would upset the Chinese.” He was not the only one who was upset over the government’s decision. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a trade union coalition within the country, has expressed displeasure toward the nation’s foreign policy. Tony Ehrenreich, a COSATU leader, opined in a South African news agency that, “even though China is our biggest trading partner, we should not exchange our morality for dollars or yuan.”
China views the Dalai Lama as a dangerous figure who is trying to split Tibet from China, though over the course of the years, the Dalai Lama has stated repeatedly that he favors Tibet be given more autonomy from China, and not necessarily political independence. Since fleeing Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama has been based in Dharamasala, India.
Though the two friends were forced to rely on technology, it was clear that Google+ helped bridge the gap between the two Nobel laureates. The Dalai Lama told Tutu fondly, “I can see your face. I really feel very, very happy.” Then with a mischievous remark, the Tibetan leader noted that he was looking forward to Tutu’s 90th birthday. “Don’t forget to send me an invitation. Then we can test your government.”
Erica Ho is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.