(Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at a conference in Sao Paulo September 17, 2011/Nacho Doce)

The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, canceled a trip to South Africa planned for this week that had put Pretoria in a bind between its biggest trading partner China and one of its modern heroes, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu. The Dalai Lama’s office said on Tuesday he cancelled the trip for him to attend Archbishop Tutu’s 80th birthday celebration this week because South Africa — which has had his application paperwork for weeks — had not issued him a visa on time.

South Africa had come under pressure from China not to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate Beijing sees as a dangerous separatist.

“We are, therefore, now convinced that for whatever reason or reasons, the South African government finds it inconvenient to issue a visa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” his office said in a statement.

The Dalai Lama, once embraced as a beacon of peace in South Africa when apartheid ended, has become a diplomatic headache for the country as its economic fortunes are increasingly linked to China, which had pushed Pretoria to reject a previous visa application. “South Africa has not said ‘no’,” said foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela, “The man has decided to cancel the trip.”