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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Meeting puts China relations at risk

October 30, 2007

October 27, 2007

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be poking an ancient hornet's nest when he meets on Monday with the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled leader.

Though the meeting is unlikely to have lasting effects on Sino-Canadian relations -- Canada has oil, technology and expertise the Chinese want to buy, and Ottawa is keen to sell--it is sure to draw angry reaction from Beijing. Already, the Chinese ambassador has threatened the meeting will "undoubtedly jeopardize our bilateral relations and will also undermine the fundamental interests of Canada in the long term."

At issue is the status of Tibet, a region of high Himalayan peaks and vast arid steppes in the far west of China, bordering on India, which is an increasingly important area for natural resources and military infrastructure. The Chinese say it is a province. The Tibetans, many of whom live in exile in India, call it an occupied country.

Its people are ethnically distinct from the main Han Chinese population, though Beijing says Tibetans -- more closely related to Mongolians -- are one of the five original races of China. China says Tibet became part of China in the 13th century, and that their more recent invasion in 1950 liberated Tibetans from an unjust feudal system, rife with slavery and corporal punishment, under the direction of Buddhist leaders with absolute power.

Tibetans, for their part, claim their nation was established with the Yarlung Dynasty in 127 BC, and unified in the seventh century under King Songsten Gampo. It claims to have ensured its sovereignty by agreements with conquering Mongol emperors, who later ruled China, while respecting Tibet's independence.

After the 1950 invasion, the newly enthroned Dalai Lama went to Beijing to try to renegotiate the "17-Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet," which Chinese troops had imposed at gunpoint.

That fruitless visit marked the beginning of a long series of overtures by Tibet, and refusals from China, to come to any further agreement on the country's status. Tibet seeks autonomy, though not complete independence, because it is eager to develop alongside the growing Chinese superpower but reluctant to see its natural resources exploited. Tibetans are especially fearful the influx of a Chinese ruling elite, with communist ideals and marching orders from the Politburo in Beijing, will wipe out their culture within a few generations.

China regards the whole dispute at a purely internal matter, and resents outside interference, especially the three United Nations resolutions that have supported Tibet against China, all of which Canada voted for.
In the middle of this intractable mess is Tenzin Gyatso, the 72-year-old Dalai Lama, who has orchestrated a global public relations campaign in which he has attained a revered status shared only by such people as Ghandi or Mother Teresa, but whose political successes have been limited.

Caught between disputed history and uncertain future, he must play diplomat, monk and ruler, all at the same time.

As a parliamentary organizer of his Canada visit, who asked to remain anonymous, put it last week, "Although it is a matter of history, and certainly His Holiness is not interested in revisiting history, he's pressured to do so because China continually insists that he acknowledge that Tibet has always been part of China. Being who he is, foremost a Buddhist monk who believes in speaking the truth, he cannot rewrite history. It would be a betrayal of the truth in his mind. Not only that, of course, but his people would not react very favourably."
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