South Africa’s government found itself in a bit of trouble this October. The Dalai Lama, scheduled to attend the 14th World Peace Summit in Cape Town as a Nobel peace prize laureate, announced unexpectedly that South Africa had refused to grant him a visa to enter the country. Fourteen other Nobel laureates wrote to South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, asking him to admit the Dalai Lama. No visa appeared, and so, facing boycotts from nine laureates and 11 associated organizations, South Africa was forced to cancel the summit.

Despite weak protestations that the Dalai Lama had withdrawn his visa application himself, preventing South Africa from awarding him a visa, the government was widely understood to be bowing to China, which regards the exiled spiritual leader as the rebellious head of the movement for Tibetan independence. A statement of appreciation from the Chinese Foreign Ministry confirms that South Africa acted in accord with China’s will. South African reactions were less warm. Patricia de Lille, the mayor of Cape Town (which lost approximately US$5 million by the cancellation of the summit) accused the government of being willing to “do anything to appease the Chinese government,” while Nobel Peace Prize aureate and anti-apartheid hero Desmond Tutu said he was “ashamed to call this lickspittle bunch [his] government.”

It appears that China, which has a considerable amount of geopolitical power, exerts pressure on the rest of the world not to host the Dalai Lama. Still, different countries react differently to this pressure. "Even among those governments that don’t prioritize salmon … meeting with the Dalai Lama isn’t easy" Mongolia and Russia, both of which have close ties to China, simply do not allow the Dalai Lama to cross their borders. No other countries are willing to exclude him so absolutely. It has, however, become more difficult in recent years for him to make visits. An examination of the Dalai Lama’s experience from country to country reveals the range of China’s influence across the world, providing an interesting window to the backstage world politics.

When it is not possible to deny the Dalai Lama entry (and most governments are less supple than South Africa’s), China generally turns to less direct approaches. In 2007, China succeeded in persuading the Belgian government to ask the Dalai Lama to cancel a planned trip to Brussels. His visit, in which he would have met with members of the European Parliament and attended a conference of NGOs on Tibet, would have been at the same time as the Belgian trade delegation to China. Belgium is not the only country to see the economic advantages of rescheduling the Dalai Lama. Though India is one of his greatest supporters, a September 2014 visit by the Dalai Lama to Delhi was reshuffled to a different date. This might just be a coincidence, but Chinese President Xi Jinping was in the city at the same time. The current BJP government might have felt the visit would be more productive without the presence of the Dalai Lama. (In fact, it ended up being rather unproductive anyway.)

Another important point for the Chinese government appears to be ensuring that if the Dalai Lama does gain entry to a foreign country, that he avoid meeting with that country’s government. This is best illustrated by a recent snub from the government of Norway. In May 2014, the Dalai Lama arrived in Oslo, on the invitation of the Nobel committee, to mark the 25th anniversary of his Nobel Prize. No representatives of Norway’s government were willing to meet with him during his three-day visit.

Norway’s prime minister, Erna Solberg, argued that Chinese coldness after 2010, when the Nobel Committee awarded the peace prize to Chinese human rights lawyer and dissident Liu Xiabo, made this necessary. Solberg defended her government’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama with the somewhat unconnected statement that “It has been a difficult situation that we have not been able to work internationally with China for four years. Before 2010 we had a running dialogue with China about human rights issues. Norwegian experts were helping the Chinese to develop a better justice system. After 2010 we haven't been able to do this.”

Perhaps more relevant to the government’s calculations than prospective influence on the Chinese justice system was another consequence of Chinese coldness—the partial embargo and end to trade talks imposed by China after the prize was awarded. Particularly stinging has been the loss of Norway’s near-monopoly on salmon exports to China. A 92 percent market share of Chinese salmon exports fell to 29 percent from 2010 to 2013. Even among those governments that don’t prioritize salmon, however, meeting with the Dalai Lama isn’t easy.

So where is the Dalai Lama welcome these days? To judge from his itinerary: the United States and its allies. He most recently visited Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United States, and a dozen European countries. Of those, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia are the ones geographically closest to China. Japan is powerful enough to withstand disagreement with China, and has a somewhat acrimonious relationship with the country anyway. But New Zealand is fairly small, and China is its second largest trading partner. So why, despite having close resource-based trade relationships with China along the lines of South Africa’s, are New Zealand and Australia far more likely to take an independent line?

The difference, perhaps, between countries like South Africa and countries like New Zealand and Australia may lie with US protection. New Zealand and Australia, more firmly underneath the economic and military umbrella of the United States, may feel freer to resist China’s pressure not to host the Dalai Lama.

It may be that this scandal has taught the South African government a lesson, but it seems unlikely. This is South Africa’s third time denying the Dalai Lama a visa, and an appeals court actually ruled in 2012 that the government’s previous failures were “deliberate procrastination” and “unlawful.” Still, South Africa’s willingness to follow Chinese pressure (which Archbishop Tutu described as “spineless”) is hardly an anomaly. Although South Africa’s obsequiousness seems to be rather unusual on the global spectrum of responses, every country is finding the Dalai Lama a bit of an inconvenient guest right now. As long as China continues its opposition to the Dalai Lama, his itinerary will continue to be indicative of Chinese influence. Given China’s recent rise, the world would do well to monitor the treatment of the Dalai Lama around the globe as an indicator of exactly how deep its influence is entrenched.