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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Canada-China ties worry Tibetan Prime Minister Sangay

December 1, 2014

Globe and Mail, November 25, 2014 - The leader of Tibet’s exiled administration says he is concerned Canada’s push to boost economic ties with China could lead to investments that don’t respect Tibetan culture or spirituality.

Lobsang Sangay, Prime Minister of the Central Tibetan Administration, told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday that he wants Tibetans to have a positive business relationship with both Canada and China. But he said there’s a risk some Canadian companies could become involved in projects that would have a negative impact on Tibetan society.

Mr. Sangay was in Ottawa Tuesday to meet with parliamentarians and with the city’s Tibetan community. He is also looking to promote his administration’s “middle way” approach – a policy of seeking autonomy for Tibetans within the framework of the Chinese constitution.

His visit comes on the heels of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trip to China earlier this month, and following the long-awaited ratification of an investment promotion and protection agreement between Canada and China. The Conservative government is keen to strengthen economic ties with Beijing after a period of cooler relations.

“Any country having any kind of business relationship with China, it’s that country’s prerogative,” Mr. Sangay said on Tuesday. “As far as Tibet is concerned, we want a positive relationship, including a business relationship, with Canada and China.”

However, Mr. Sangay said any company looking to invest in Tibet will need to be culturally and environmentally sensitive to Tibetans and ensure that projects also hold economic benefits for local residents, he said.

“Now those Canadian companies who form partnerships with [Chinese firms], they have to be cognizant of all these things. So that, we are worried [about],” he said. “That’s where we try to sensitize any Canadian companies who are doing business in Tibet. Obviously it’s a business, so you should make a profit, but have some principles and make sure that Tibetan peoples’ interests are also taken care of.”

Mr. Sangay expressed particular concern about the effect that mining projects might have in Tibet, where some of the mountains are considered sacred.

David Mulroney, a fellow with the Munk School of Global Affairs and former ambassador to China, said foreign investors are generally aware of the importance of taking a sensitive approach to possible investments in Tibet.

However, he noted that foreign mining companies have had limited success in China, including in Tibet, in recent years because Chinese companies have frequently “squeezed them out” of deals midway through, often by applying onerous new restrictions or making additional demands.

“I think the [investment protection agreement] is about levelling the playing field to the extent possible, and I think it’s still going to be a challenge in China,” Mr. Mulroney said. “But as far as Tibet is concerned, I think most responsible companies, Canadian companies included, would want to approach a project in Tibet with real sensitivity and ensuring they’re getting the maximum input from Tibetan partners.”

A spokesperson for Canada’s Foreign Affairs department did not comment directly on Canadian investment in Tibet. Amy Mills said the government expects companies to respect human rights and conduct their business responsibly, and noted that the government recently brought in a new corporate social responsibility strategy for extractive sector firms.

Mr. Sangay said he worries, more broadly, about the state of political and religious freedoms in Tibet, adding, “The situation continues to be grim.”

Canada’s ambassador for religious freedom, Andrew Bennett, met with the Dalai Lama earlier this year. Mr. Sangay said he does not plan to issue a formal request for Mr. Bennett to travel to Tibet, but added that he would be pleased if the ambassador opts to do so in the future.

“It would be really good if he can go to Tibet,” he said, “and [issue] a paper on religious freedom in Tibet, on China in general and Tibet in particular.”

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