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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?"

PM talks with Dalai Lama signal unprecedented push

October 31, 2007

Oct. 28 2007

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will host the first-ever formal meeting between a Canadian prime minister and the Dalai Lama -- a controversial move that could
signal an unprecedented push for Tibetan autonomy.

The 72-year-old exiled spiritual leader will visit Ottawa today and publicly meet with Harper in the House of Commons on Monday.

That meeting is expected to go further than former prime minister Paul Martin's informal private talk with the Tibetan leader in 2004 -- the first time the Dalai Lama
had ever met with a Canadian prime minister.

"For us, no matter what they talk about in the meeting, the significance is that they are meeting," Norbu Tsering, president of the Canadian Tibetan Association of
Ontario, told from Toronto.

October's visit will be the Dalai Lama's sixth trip to Canada and his third to Ottawa since he began travelling to the West in the 1970s:

    * The Dalai Lama first visited Canada in 1980 and was met by then-governor general Ed Schreyer.
    * In 1990, he visited Ottawa for the first time and met former secretary of state for multiculturalism Gerry Weiner on the government's behalf.
    * The Dalai Lama's 1990 visit prompted an amendment to Sino-Canadian diplomatic policy, which was officially established in 1970. Canada continued to
recognize the People's Republic of China as the official government but would take no position on territorial claims.
    * In 2004, former prime minister Paul Martin courted controversy by becoming the first Canadian leader to meet the Dalai Lama. The one-hour talk on human
rights took place at the home of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ottawa. Martin's predecessor, Jean Chrétien, refused such a meeting.
    * The Dalai Lama was personally recognized when he last visited Canada in 2006 and received an honorary Canadian citizenship -- a measure protested by
Chinese officials. He joins Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg, Nelson Mandela and, most recently, Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi in receiving the

Currently, Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade recognizes China as the legitimate government of both China and Tibet -- but has "great
respect" for the Dalai Lama.

Dermod Travis, executive director of Canada Tibet Committee, says western nations have made a distinct shift in recent years toward a negotiated solution for an
autonomous Tibet within China.

Travis said the prime minister's meeting demonstrates Harper wants to see concrete change and not a continuation of the current record.

"Certainly we would hope that the prime minister will reflect what the House of Commons said this year when it passed a motion unanimously in February calling on
the government of Canada to increase pressure on the government of China to enter into these negotiations with determination and resolve to reach a solution,"
Travis told from Montreal.

Over the past two years, the Conservative government has angered China on a number of issues prompting several high-profile visits to mend frayed relations.

Jacob Kovalio, an Asia-Pacific expert and professor at Carlton University, speculates that Harper's public meeting with Dalai Lama is a response to icy relations
with the People's Republic of China.

"It's posturing and a display of Canadian foreign policy confidence, not against the People's Republic of China, but to reinforce our position as a nation proud of its
democratic political traditions," Kovalio told from Ottawa.

Kovalio speculated that Harper has chosen this moment to resuscitate international interest in the Tibetan issue because of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

"He (Harper) knows China is not going to rock the boat too violently because of the concern the Chinese have with some nations or some important individuals
boycotting the Olympics," Kovalio said.

Lhadon Tethong, Tibetan-Canadian and Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet, said the meeting could equate to nothing more than a symbolic shift in

"It's a fantastic gesture and a very important one for the elected prime minister of the Canadian people to the Dalai Lama, who the Chinese government wants to
paint as an extremist," Tethong told in an interview from New York.

"It's one thing to meet with the Dalai Lama but it's another to give a real expression of support for his attempts to resolve this threatening issue non-violently,"
Tethong said.

"We haven't seen, other than token gestures, any real substantive moves by the Canadian government or the Canadian corporate business community to help
improve the situation on the ground inside Tibet."

In August, Tethong was detained in Beijing by Chinese officials for criticizing the government on her blog. Two other Canadians in her group were taken into
custody after they unfurled a banner that said ''One World, One Dream, Free Tibet" at China's Great Wall.

The dispute's history

In 1949, China invaded the Himalayan nation killing more than 400,000 Tibetans, destroying 6,000 monastic communities and branding the Dalai Lama a separatist.
The following year, at the age of 16, the Dalai Lama assumed full political power as Head of State and Government in Tibet.

After a failed uprising in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to northern India where he continues his struggle for Tibetan autonomy and the preservation of Tibetan Buddhist

China has been chastised for its human rights record inside Tibet where it is illegal to possess a photo of the Dalai Lama or a Tibetan flag. Ethnic tensions have
heightened in recent months, prompting an escalation in police action.

"We would like to see a real effort by the Canadian leadership to address the situation and to push the Chinese for change," Tethong said.

"(We need) substantive measures and not just these backroom closed bilateral talks on human rights but to lead the international community in getting together and
saying to the Chinese leadership that enough is enough."

Chinese leaders protest

Chinese officials are vehemently opposed to foreign leaders meeting with the Dalai Lama, claiming the Nobel laureate is a political figure who aims to fracture the
People's Republic of China.

During this recent North American tour, the Dalai Lama met privately with U.S. President George Bush at the White House on Oct. 16 and received the
Congressional Gold Medal at Capitol Hill -- the body's highest civilian honour.

Chinese officials protested the visit and responded by saying the "erroneous actions by the US have severely undermined China-US relations."

China cancelled a third consecutive round of Germany-China talks following a meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Dalai Lama in September.

As expected, the Chinese embassy in Ottawa issued a statement critical of Harper's public meeting with the Dalai Lama referring to him as a political figure engaged
in "secessionist" activities.

Potential fallout

Despite China's continued threats, western supporters of the Dalai Lama continue to push for diplomatic talks between China and the exiled spiritual leader.

"We saw the outcry in 2004 when (Paul) Martin met the Dalai Lama," Travis said. "I think that China would be well advised to pull back on the knee-jerk reaction
and instead focus on the benefits of building trust between the Tibetan people and the Chinese government,"

"Certainly there has been no demonstrable fallout from the Dalai Lama meeting with heads of state around the world."

According to a Canada Tibet Committee survey conducted last month, nearly nine out of 10 Canadians support the meeting despite the threat of consequences for
Canada's trade relations with the communist country.

"I think Canadians are speaking with one voice and the West is speaking with one voice and China now has an obligation to hear the message that we are sending,"
Travis said.

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